ELLSWORTH, Maine — Some lobstermen still are waiting for their 2012 trap tags to arrive but, by now, most either have received them or have received approval from the Department of Marine Resources to fish without them, a Marine Patrol official said Friday.
The availability of trap tags became an issue in May and June as the tag manufacturer experienced an equipment breakdown and got backed up for several weeks. Lobstermen in most zones along the Maine coast are limited to a maximum of 800 traps, each of which must be tagged to identify which licensed fisherman owns the trap. Each year, DMR allows fishermen to use tags from the prior year up until June 1. The tags cost fishermen 50 cents apiece.
Because of the delay, DMR started at the end of May to grant individual approval to fishermen to set gear without their 2012 tags if they had been waiting for at least four weeks to receive them.
Maj. Alan Talbot, deputy chief of Marine Patrol, said Friday that the current glut of landed lobsters, which has kept prices unusually low, and the onset of summer have reduced the urgency many fishermen felt in June to get their gear in the water. DMR officials estimated around mid-June that several hundred fishermen might still be waiting for their tags, but Talbot said Friday that the number likely is much lower now.
Talbot estimated that approximately 300 lobstermen who have waited at least four weeks have received approval from DMR to set gear without their 2012 tags, though some since might have received them. He declined to speculate how many overall might still not have their tags.
“This late in the season, there probably aren’t that many left,” Talbot said.
Most lobstermen in Maine prepare their gear in the spring for the lobster season, which generally starts in late spring and extends well into the fall. An early molt this year prompted many fishermen to get traps in the water several weeks earlier than they usually do.
The tags are manufactured in New York by Stoffel Seals, which is owned by TydenBrooks Security Products Group, based in Congers, N.Y. Recent attempts to contact company officials about the issue have been unsuccessful.
DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said recently that the department anticipated it might take longer this year for lobstermen to get their tags, but not because of problems with the tag manufacturer. He said the size of DMR’s licensing staff decreased over the winter, so fishermen were encouraged to order their tags by April 1 in order to give the department enough time to process their orders.
“We told everybody to buy them before April,” he said.
Keliher said Stoffel has manufactured trap tags for Maine since 1996 and is in the final year of a three-year contract to produce them. Stoffel has developed a color-coded locking system on its tags that prevent anyone from being able to make counterfeit tags, the commissioner said, and the firm submitted the lowest bid for the work.
The commissioner said DMR’s contract with Stoffel requires the company to process and ship out orders within 15 days of receiving them. He added that there are financial penalties built into the contract that give the company incentives to produce and ship the tags on time.
Keliher said the state will review the tag delay when it sends out requests for new tag manufacturing contract bids later this year.
“We’re going back out to bid this fall,” he said.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.