BREWER, Maine — Because some elver fishermen are expected to have their licenses suspended this year due to outstanding fines, fishermen with active licenses will not have 5 percent of their quotas set aside as a buffer to prevent overfishing.
All licensed elver fishermen, whether or not they are members of Maine’s federally recognized Indian tribes, are facing a reduction in individual quotas for the 2015 elver season because of a decision made last fall by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. In 2014, the total statewide quota was 11,749 pounds, but for 2015 it will be 9,688 pounds, which is the total approximate amount that actually was harvested last year.
Fishermen who attended a public hearing Monday night on the Maine Department of Marine Resource’s proposed rules for the 2015 elver fishing season were told that, unlike the 2014 season, active fishermen will not have part of their individual quotas withheld for this season. The reason DMR put a 5 percent buffer in place last year for each fisherman was to prevent overfishing and possible penalties from the interstate fisheries commission.
No individual buffer will be in place this year, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said Monday, because enough fishermen will have their licenses suspended for elver-related violations from last season that their inactive quotas will function as a buffer.
Jeff Nichols, spokesman for DMR, said Tuesday that the department expects to suspend 13 nontribal fishermen’s elver licenses for the 2015 season because of violations such as exceeding individual quota and failure to report landings. The total amount of quota affected by the expected suspensions is 227 pounds, or a little over half the 458 pounds that were set aside as the statewide 5 percent buffer last year.
“Based on the confidence gained last year [when the state first required live electronic reporting of all sales by fishermen to dealers], we are not proposing to withhold the 5 percent buffer, but only to withhold the quota associated with the 13 suspended licenses,” Nichols said.
Even though some fishermen harvested more elvers than they were supposed to in 2014, enough fishermen caught less than what their quotas allowed so that the overall catch in Maine last year was about 2,000 pounds below the statewide catch limit.
Keliher also said Monday that the state is hoping to earn some credits with the commission for conservation measures it is pursuing, such as improving upstream and downstream fish and eel passage at dams, which could result in the commission increasing the total amount of elvers that Maine fishermen are allowed to catch each year. But he cautioned that it may take a couple of years to have those measures put in place and then to be credited for them with an increased statewide quota.
“It’s going to be a lengthy process,” Keliher told approximately 40 fishermen at Monday’s meeting at Jeff’s Catering. “We have an opportunity to gain quota from that process.”
For the most part, fishermen at the meeting did not have much criticism for the state’s proposed rules for the 2015 season, which also would set quotas for each of the tribes, allow fishermen to be licensed to use assistants while fishing, and require dealers to electronically document transactions between each other, among other things.
Some fishermen did say, however, that it is unfair to reduce everyone’s individual quota by the same percentage when some worked hard to reach their 2014 catch limit and others fell short of it. As a result, they said, some fishermen will be allowed to catch more than they did in 2014, even if their individual limit is reduced.
Darrel Young, president of the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association, said the quota reserved for fishermen whose licenses will be suspended should be divided among fishermen who will be allowed to fish. Other fishermen suggested that the reduced quotas for this year ought to be based on what fishermen legally caught in 2014, rather than what their catch limits were.
“It doesn’t seem fair to guys who [reached their 2014 limit and] played by the rules,” fisherman Joseph McDonald of Jonesport told DMR officials.
Nichols said Tuesday that the department will consider other proposals submitted during the public comment period about how to reach the statewide quota of 9,688 pounds and might include them in the final rule.
DMR will accept written comments on the proposed rules until Feb. 20. They may be sent to: Department of Marine Resources, attn: K. Rousseau, 21 State House Station Augusta, Maine 04330-0021, or emailed to email@example.com.
The annual 10-week season for Maine’s lucrative elver fishery, which generates millions of dollars in total income that is divided among several hundred fishermen, is expected to begin on March 22. Another public hearing on the proposed 2015 rules was scheduled to be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10, in Hallowell, at the the Natural Resource Service Center building next to DMR’s main office.