State raises lobster trap limit on Swan’s Island

Posted June 29, 2013, at 2:11 p.m.

SWAN’S ISLAND, Maine — Local lobster fishermen will be able each fish up to 75 more traps than they currently are allowed, now that Gov. Paul LePage has signed a bill approved by the Legislature into law.

The bill, LD 1020, increases the trap limit for Swan’s Island fishermen from 475 to 550. Most lobstermen in Maine are limited to 800 traps. The bill was supported by the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee and by the House and Senate before LePage signed it into law on Monday.

In a prepared statement released Wednesday, LePage said the new law is expected to provide more economic benefit to the island community, which has a year-round population of about 350 residents, without adversely affecting conservation measures that Maine lobstermen have followed for decades. Such measures include minimum and maximum harvest sizes, escape vents in traps for undersized lobsters, and a ban on keeping reproductive females.

“Living and working on an island poses some unique challenges,” LePage said in the statement. “With this moderate increase in the number of traps available for Swan’s Island fishermen, there is a good balance between continued conservation and increased economic opportunity that will make this year-round community more prosperous.”

Another proposal to change the state’s lobster fishing laws died earlier this month from lack of support in the Legislature. LD 1549 would have allowed Maine ground-fishermen to keep incidental lobster that they catch far offshore in their nets as long as they unloaded it in a state other than Maine. The Marine Resources Committee voted June 6 that the bill ought not to pass, sealing its defeat days later in the House and Senate.

Before the bill’s defeat, groundfishermen argued that they already take their lobster bycatch to Massachusetts, where it can be legally be sold. Legalizing the practice would eliminate the risk of fines from Maine Marine Patrol and would help reduce the current economic incentives they have for moving to Massachusetts, they said.

Lobstermen, however, opposed the bill, just as they have with similar bills in recent years. Allowing the practice, lobstermen argued, would undermine their long-standing conservation practices and the state’s more recent efforts to brand its lobster trap fishery as a sustainable enterprise.

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