BAR HARBOR — Any Maine lobsterman with a federal lobster permit may now be contacted by federal fishery observers asking to send a representative on his or her boat for a day. That was the message from Maine Department of Marine Resources lobster scientist Kathleen Reardon to fishermen at a Zone B council meeting last week. If asked, hosting the observer is mandatory for fishermen as a condition of their federal permit.

The Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP) has been in the news this year over disputes about who pays to send observers on commercial fishing boats, but that controversy has been in the groundfish industry.

Lobstermen are not going to be asked to cover cost of federal observers, Reardon said. “This is a different program than the conversation that’s going on with groundfish. The Standard Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM) program has existed for a number of years now, but NOAA has been using their discretion as to which fisheries to look at. They’re paying attention to lobster because of a lawsuit over bycatch reduction.”

Regulators are looking for better data on how many of certain fish species, such as cod and cusk, come up in lobster traps as bycatch. But the data from the observer program is used by several different NOAA Fisheries departments and programs.

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