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February 25, 2016

Lawmakers endorse stripped-down version of lobster license change

The Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources of the Maine Legislature voted Wednesday to make modest changes in the rules that control lobster fishing licenses in Maine, side-stepping a more controversial proposal for access to Maine's most lucrative fishery, the Portland Press Herald reported.

If approved by the full Legislature, the plan will increase the age for young people, from 18 to 23, to finish a required apprenticeship program. Another change would give the state's seven lobster management zones a new option of how to calculate so-called exit ratios, based on the highest number of trap tags purchased by a retiring fisherman. A third change will "clean up" the waiting list by verifying who really wants to remain on it.

The Department of Marine Resources' original plan would have created a new class of license designed to cut down the waiting list, which has nearly 300 people on it. It would have increased the age from 18 to 23 before someone is put on the waiting list after completing the industry's apprenticeship program; and removed special fees for applicants age 70 or older.

According to the Maine Lobstermen's Community Alliance, pressure to consider changes to Maine's lobster licensing system has been building for about 10 years, with concern growing in tandem with the amount of time apprentices spend waiting to obtain a commercial lobster license. There are now seven apprentices in Zone B and three in Zone D who have been on the waiting list for 10 years. An additional 43 apprentices, spread across Zones B, D and G, have been waiting to obtain a lobster license for nine years.

Interest in reforming Maine's lobster licensing system gathered momentum since the release of "An Independent Evaluation of the Maine Limited-Entry System for Lobster and Crab," a report prepared by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in December 2012, the MLCA said.

Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher and several key staff members hit the road during late summer and early fall of 2015 to speak directly with lobstermen about potential changes to the lobster entry system. Based on feedback from the eight meetings, the DMR drafted the concept proposal that was used as the basis for the bill.

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