ROCKPORT, Maine — The bizarre 2012 lobster fishing season may be over, but discussion of what happened and what might be done to prevent a repeat will figure prominently in the lineup of topics featured this week at the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum.
The forum, which organizers say typically attracts between 2,000 and 3,000 attendees each year, is scheduled from Thursday, Feb. 28, through Saturday, March 2, at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.
What Maine’s $330 million lobster industry went through last year stands out among the ups and downs faced by Maine fishermen through the years. The industry, which has more than 5,300 licensed commercial fishermen, is the largest in the state and represents the largest lobster fishery in the country.
Unseasonably warm water temperatures last winter led to an early molting season and exceptionally high catches in the spring and early summer, when lobster dealers had difficulty finding customers for all the lobster that was unloaded at their docks. The resulting glut caused prices to plummet temporarily to less than $2 per pound, the lowest level fishermen had received in decades, and led to trade blockades by Canadian fishermen in New Brunswick.
Warming ocean temperatures remain an ongoing concern and will feature in multiple seminars during the three-day forum.
Temperature is a significant factor in ocean acidification, which will be the topic of a seminar Thursday morning. How temperatures and other factors affect ongoing efforts to restore the groundfish fishery in the Gulf of Maine will be a seminar subject Friday afternoon. On Saturday, another seminar will focus on effects of increasing temperatures throughout the gulf.
Regulatory changes, some aimed at lessening the effects environmental changes have on Maine fisheries, also will be on tap at the forum.
Last month, the Maine Department of Marine Resources held a series of lobster industry meetings along the coast to solicit feedback from fishermen about management measures being considered. Among the ideas discussed at those meetings was a trigger mechanism that would give DMR authority to temporarily adjust the minimum catch size of lobster.
Such a trigger could help avoid a repeat of the glut of 2012, according to DMR officials. If Maine’s minimum catch size is increased by an eighth or a quarter of an inch for four weeks or so, lobsters that normally could be kept would have to be dumped back into the water. After a specified amount of time, the minimum catch automatically would revert to normal, which would have the effect of shifting some volume of landings to later in the summer, when lobster have harder shells and as a result survive better during shipping.
Canadian processors have more available capacity later in the summer to process lobster shipped from Maine.
Another possible regulatory measure discussed at the January meetings is a tiered licensing system, which officials say could help shorten waiting periods to get into the fishery without increasing the number of traps in the water. A new fee schedule for lobster industry licenses, whether held by fishermen, dealers or processors, that would raise $3 million for a new Maine lobster marketing entity is another measure under consideration.
The results of the January meetings will be the topic of a forum seminar scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday.