A Rockland lobsterman is asking his local zone council to consider a change to the number of traps allowed on a single trawl.

Members of the Zone D lobster council, one of seven such groups in the state, met for the first time since spring, on Sept. 19 in Rockland. Each council may propose rules for their zone, in regard to such matters as the manner in which new harvesters are allowed to enter the fishery and how many traps can be attached to one another.

Each trawl, or group of connected traps, is marked at the surface by one or two buoys, tied to the end trap or traps.

In Rockland, Zone D lobstermen are allowed to have no more than three traps in a trawl.

“I don’t want to change the three-trap trawl regulation,” Joe Allen told the council.

“I want to change it, just for Rockland, to five-trap trawls.” He said he only wanted the change to affect those lobstermen whose homeport is Rockland, and that the rule change would only apply within a small area, bounded by a line that follows the Rockland waterfront and runs approximately east from Owls Head light, east-northeast from a point between Brewster and Jameson points, and out to the West Penobscot Bay shipping channel.

Allen said his proposal is designed to reduce the number of traps lost due to the increase in traffic during the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show and at other times, and that it would also make it possible to have traps under the ferry lane.

“I had 20 triples between the breakwater and Owls Head Light and lost three this year,” he said. In 2007, I fished pairs and lost 20.” He said that he lost 60 traps during a year when he set them up as singles.

“The more that goes onto [a trawl] the less I lose,” said Allen.

Allen asked the council if they would put the question to a referendum vote of all Zone D lobstermen, and suggested the concept might become part of the ongoing discussion of whale-related lobster regulations.

“Five traps, with 50-feet between them, becomes a 200-foot span,” he said. “You could have a state ferry run between your buoys and not lose them.”

He said another benefit of the change would be a reduction in the overall amount of rope in the water, which could mean less likelihood of whale entanglements.

Council members discussed asking DMR to put the proposal out to the other zones, and Department of Marine Resources Resource Coordinator and Councils Liaison Sarah Cotnoir said she would consult with marine patrol in regard to the appropriate coordinates for such a change.

Lincolnville representative Michael Hutchings said he would like to see the change.

“The guys who fish out in deeper water aren’t going to fish five-trap trawls on the rocks,” he said. Hutchings said there was a lot of fishable bottom that could be accessed with trawls.

Lobster Advisory Council member Bob Baines suggested Allen’s proposal be put forward as a request for an exemption that other councils could institute, so that “everybody gets the same ability to fish in the traffic lanes under the same rules.”

Members of the council said they would hold district meetings for further discussion. If the rule moves forward, all lobstermen in Zone D would have an opportunity to vote on the change.

Alternative bait still being reviewed

Lobster Advisory Council member Gerry Cushman said the statewide council was still examining the use of frozen fish that is imported from out of state to be used as bait.

“The idea isn’t to ban all frozen baits,” he said. Rather, DMR wants to be sure that no pathogens are coming into Maine from warmer waters, and from freshwater sources.

Some of the baits sources tested are rockfish from the Pacific, tuna from Vietnam and carp from the Mississippi.

“The potential damage isn’t just to lobsters, but to anything that might go to any fishery and the food chain,” said Baines. He said testing for pathogens is expensive.

Changes made to promotional council

Lobstermen discussed changes to the structure of the Lobster Promotion Council that will bring more marketing expertise to bear. Current law requires that the council board consist of three members from each of Maine’s three districts — Midcoast, Eastern and Western — and that three of the total number of members be full-time lobster harvesters. Three are to be dealers, with the remaining three to represent the general public.

The new structure calls for one member to be appointed from each of the three districts, and up to seven public members who have professional knowledge or experience in trade, promotion or marketing, or other disciplines as determined by the DMR commissioner.

Discussions continue at the Lobster Advisory Council in regard to preparing a tiered licensing system to be used in the event that the state mandates effort reduction in the form of a lower maximum limit on the number of trap permits, or tags, allowed for each license holder.

A tiered system would ensure that full-time lobstermen are not penalized by bearing the full brunt of any reduction in the total number of traps allowed to be fished. One such proposal was floated last year, but was not successful, due to the inclusion of an overall trap limit in the proposal, as well as what some saw as its controversial nature.

According to Cotnoir, acting DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher plans to visit each of the seven zone councils in the near future.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at sauciello@villagesoup.com.