BANGOR, Maine — Members of the Passamaquoddy tribe are submitting emergency legislation that seeks to lift individual fishing quotas for elvers.
The tribe had worked out an arrangement with the state that set an overall quota of 1,650 pounds for its members, with no individual quotas until the tribe catches 89 percent of its communal limit.
But when the Maine Legislature approved new rules for the elver fishery on Tuesday, lawmakers mandated individual quotas on all fishermen, including members of Maine Indian tribes.
Passamaquoddy tribal leaders are working to reverse that action for their members, Newell Lewey, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribal Council, said Friday. He said it was not yet clear if other tribes will follow suit.
“We did push that through Wednesday at the revisor’s office, and they should have a bill, an amendment, ready for us on Monday. It’s like an emergency, emergency bill,” he said.
This will be the first year that Maine has an overall limit on the amount of juvenile American eels that can be harvested. In past years, the state has restricted the impact of fishing on eel populations by limiting only the amount of licenses and gear that can be used statewide.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has told state officials that no more than 11,749 pounds of elvers can be harvested in Maine during the 2014 season, which traditionally has lasted for 10 weeks. That limit represents a 35 percent reduction from the 18,000 pounds that were caught statewide in 2013.
The bill approved Tuesday reserves 22 percent of the statewide catch for Maine’s four Indian tribes. The Passamaquoddy will get 14 percent of the statewide quota, the Penobscot will get 6.4 percent, the Maliseets 1.1 percent and the Micmacs 0.4 percent.
However, sharp differences remain between the state and the Passamaquoddy over how the elver fishery should be managed. For each of the past two seasons, the tribe has issued hundreds of licenses to their members despite the objections of Maine Department of Marine Resources officials.
Last year, Marine Patrol officers cited dozens of Passamaquoddy who were found fishing with tribal licenses that had not been approved by the state. Prosecutors later dismissed the charges, however, saying it was unfair to target fishermen who were caught up in an intergovernmental dispute.
Passamaquoddy officials have said this year that they intend to limit the tribe’s overall 2014 quota to 1,650 pounds, which is consistent with a 14 percent share of the statewide catch limit. But they also have said they strongly oppose imposing individual quotas on their members.
Earlier this year, state and Passamaquoddy officials were close to working out an agreement on how the tribe would manage its fishery, but it came undone when the attorney general’s office raised concerns about the constitutionality of parts of the agreement.
Bangor Daily News writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.