ELLSWORTH, Maine — A year after a production issue arose with the state’s prior contractor for lobster trap tags, Maine Department of Marine Resources is dealing with another production issue with the new contractor.
As a result, DMR is allowing lobstermen who received tags prior to May 1 to replace all damaged or lost tags, regardless of amount and at no additional cost. The manufacturing issue was fixed in late April, according to DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols, so only lobstermen who received tags before the end of that month should be affected.
Under normal gear loss conditions, lobstermen can replace up to 10 percent of the total number of traps they are licensed for, but they have to pay for the replacement tags. Most lobstermen in Maine are limited to 800 traps. Tags — plastic strips a few inches long that are looped and fastened through a trap’s wire mesh — normally cost 50 cents apiece and have to be purchased new each year.
Nichols said last week that trap tags made earlier this year by Cambridge Security Seals of Pomona, N.Y., were not durable enough and have been breaking, making them unreadable to Marine Patrol officers who may want to determine trap owners. In some cases, Nichols said, the tags have broken off completely and disappeared.
Though the problem was fixed in late April, defective tags still are being used, according to Nichols. DMR is not replacing tags that may be defective but are still intact, he said, only those that have broken partly or completely off. Fishermen do not have to provide identification numbers for defective tags that have fallen off their traps.
“The [Marine Patrol] officers in the field have replacement tags,” Nichols said. “We’re going to replace as many as we can. We are confident this is not going to be an overwhelming enforcement issue.”
The replacement tags are numbered sequentially and are entered into a DMR database as they are handed out so Marine Patrol knows whose traps will bear the replacement tags. Nichols added that DMR has not put a time limit on how long the free tag replacement offer will last.
Last year, the prior vendor had difficulty filling tag orders because of an equipment breakdown, which led to DMR allowing some fishermen to put untagged traps in the water while they waited for their orders to arrive.
That vendor, Stoffel Seals of Congers, N.Y., was in the final year of the three-year contract with DMR. When the state awarded a new one-year contract last fall, Stoffel and three other tag manufacturers lost out to Cambridge, which had the lowest bid at 6 cents per tag.
If the statewide total of trap tags sold in 2013 is close to the amount sold in 2012, which was 3.3 million, the one-year contract would cost the state approximately $200,000, Nichols has indicated.
Nichols characterized the latest manufacturing issue as “real minor” and said Cambridge has been responsive in fixing the problem. He said the number of 2013 tags replaced to date is roughly 1,000.
“They are making good on their commitment to [DMR] and to the industry,” he said of Cambridge.
Marine Patrol Major Jon Cornish said in a prepared statement that it is important to make sure all traps are tagged, either with their normal 2013 tags or replacement tags, because they help Marine Patrol officers protect the health and sustainability of Maine’s $339 million lobster fishery, which is the most valuable fishery in Maine.
“While we have not had many reports of broken or lost tags to-date, we are making every effort to be proactive and reach out to industry to ensure quick and easy access to replacement tags,” Cornish said in the statement.
Fishermen who want to make arrangements to get replacement tags should contact Marine Patrol offices either in Lamoine at 667-3373 or in Boothbay at 633-9595.