Five bills that relate to the lobster industry are coming before the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee over the next couple of weeks.

At its Jan. 14 meeting at Mount Desert High School, the Zone B Lobster Council said it does not support LD 1560, which is an act to eliminate the 3-trap limit in the waters off Hancock County.

It is currently unlawful to have on any trawl more than three lobster traps along certain sections of the coast in state water, including west of Cape Elizabeth to the New Hampshire border, a section east of Kittery, a section between Pemaquid and Robinson’s points, and off Hancock County. The bill proposes to eliminate the limit of three traps per trawl off Hancock County.

Department of Marine Resources Deputy Commissioner David Etnier said that, if the three-trap trawl is going to be eliminated, the DMR will recommend that the new measure be implemented Jan. 1, 2011, in order to give zones a chance to work out an alternative trawl regulation.

Zone B Chairman Jon Carter said he’s heard little support for the bill in this area, and the council agreed they did not support the bill.

LD 1584, which is an act to require that marine resources dealers purchase only from licensed harvesters, is pretty much common sense, according to Etnier.

The bill creates a requirement that seafood and marine worm dealers, when buying directly from a harvester, purchase marine organisms only from a properly licensed person. It also creates a requirement that harvesters, upon a dealer’s request, show their licenses to the dealer.

Currently, said Etnier, it is common sense that it would be illegal for a dealer to buy product from an unlicensed harvester, but that there is no such law on the book. What there is is a law that says it is illegal for unlicensed harvesters to sell product.

The new law would essentially require dealers to actually look at a harvester’s license.

The biggest concern for the DMR, said Etnier, is that a harvester with a suspended license might sell product to a dealer, or a harvester might be harvesting in a closed area. A portion of the information that the DMR receives from dealers cannot currently be traced back to harvesters. The new measure would make the provenance of all products traceable.

Lobstermen and their dealers generally have longstanding relationships, and the issue probably doesn’t pertain to the lobster fishery, Etnier said, but it’s been a problem in other fisheries.

Council members expressed support for the bill.

LD 1593, which is an act to amend the lobster meat laws and expand economic opportunity for Maine’s lobster industry, is an emergency bill that implements some of the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on the Economic Sustainability of Maine’s Lobster Industry.

It changes existing laws governing the handling of lobster parts and tails in order to improve the markets for the lobster industry. It also eliminates the lobster tail permit and fee, and creates a new lobster processor license to allow for increased market flexibility through the rule-making process.

Currently, only whole lobster and tails can be sold in Maine. Other states allow more flexibility in selling parts of lobsters, Etnier said.

Maine’s four processors could sell more lobster if they had more flexibility, for example, selling knuckles, claws and split tails. One restaurant chain has expressed interest in buying split tails, but it’s illegal for Maine dealers and processors to sell them, Etnier said.

The new lobster processor license would authorize a person to process lobsters and lobster meat for sale under four conditions:

— the lobster and lobster meat may be processed only at the fixed place of business named on the license;
— the lobster meat or lobster parts may come from only legal-sized lobsters;
— all containers in which lobster meat is packed after removal and that are to be sold, shipped or transported must be clearly labeled with the lobster processor license number of the packer, and;
— records must be maintained at the fixed place of business named on the license.

The goal is to try to increase the market for lobsters, Etnier said.

Council members favored the bill. If passed, the legislation will take effect this spring.

LD1604, which is an act to clarify the Marine Resources laws to provide for the protection of public safety and welfare, clarifies that the commissioner of Marine Resources has the regulatory authority to close an area to fishing should it be necessary to protect the public safety and welfare. It essentially allows the commissioner to close an area to fishing in order to address conflicts among fishermen that may cause a threat of harm to anyone.

The bill stems from the July 2009 shooting incident on Matinicus Island, Etnier said.

In response to the incident, the DMR initially shut down fishing in the area for two weeks. After negotiations with Matinicus fishermen, the closure was shortened to four days.

The closure, said Etnier, was intended to provide a cooling-off period during a time of tension. However, there was no clear law on the books allowing authority to close the fishery, and the DMR largely relied on emergency powers established by an existing gear conflict law for precedent, Etnier said.

The DMR is now seeking to establish the commissioner’s authority to close an area to fishing if such an incident ever happens again.

“Hopefully, this is a law that won’t ever have to be used,” Etnier said.

Without much comment, all council members, except for Carter, said they were against the bill. One fisherman said the power to close the fishery should lie with the Marine Patrol, not with the commissioner.

LD 1567 is a housekeeping act to correct errors and inconsistencies in Marine Resources laws.

LD1331 is an act regarding saltwater recreational fishing that establishes a saltwater recreational fishing license, dedicates the license fees to the Marine Recreation Fishing Conservation and Management Fund, and gives the commissioner of Marine Resources authority to make expenditures from the fund for purposes such as fisheries management research and education and outreach.

The bill stems from the re-authorized Magnuson Stevens Act’s requirement that saltwater recreational fishermen must be licensed. The federal government will implement the requirement on Jan. 1, 2011 if states have not done so. The bill, requested by the DMR, will fulfill the federal requirement and provide that license fees remain with the state and go into a dedicated fund that will help pay for enforcement and fishermen management for the recreational fishery sector.

The DMR’s take, said Etnier, is that unless Maine acts this year, fees will end up with the federal government.

“It’s better to have the money stay in Maine,” he said. The council agreed, but didn’t particularly support the bill.

A hearing for LD 1560, LD 1584, and LD 1593 is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 25, at 10 a.m. while a hearing for LD 1567 and LD 1604 will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 1 p.m. Both hearings will convene in Room 214 in the Cross Office Building in Augusta.