New fishery bills delay start, implement quotas

Maine elver season to start April 6

Posted:  Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 12:00pm

AUGUSTA — The 2014 elver fishing season will begin Sunday, April 6, at noon. Originally scheduled to begin on March 22, the season opening has been delayed due to deliberations over the two bills impacting the fishery, LD 1723 An Act To Improve Enforcement of Marine Resources Laws, signed into law by Governor LePage on Thursday, March 13, and LD 1625 An Act To Clarify the Law Concerning Maine's Elver Fishing Licensesigned into law on Tuesday, March 18.

"The cold weather is expected to delay elver runs this season, so the late start will likely have little impact on landings," said Colonel Joseph Fessenden, chief of the Maine Marine Patrol, in a news release.

The additional time is required by the Department of Marine Resources to implement necessary emergency rulemaking to allocate individual fishing quotas to Maine's non-tribal elver harvesters, to obtain information from Maine's federally recognized Indian tribes necessary for allocation of individual fishing quota to licensed tribal members, and to distribute new elver transaction cards.

LD 1723 established the elver transaction "swipe" card system, used for the first time this season. Similar to a credit card, it has a magnetic stripe on the back that is encoded by DMR staff with identifying information for each harvester, which along with the transaction information including weight and price paid, will be uploaded to a secure database and monitored by the department to ensure the state does not exceed its quota of 11,749 pounds.

Of the 11,749 lbs, Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher is authorized to withhold up to ten percent to provide a buffer that helps prevent the state from exceeding the overall quota. The commissioner has chosen to withhold five percent from both non-tribal and tribal allocations, which leaves a total quota for the state of 11,161 pounds.

The department will be issuing each license holder a transaction card and will be providing dealers with card readers that are used to record and upload transaction details. This outreach will require a minimum of two weeks, as the department plans to issue the cards at several locations around the state for the convenience of license holders. These locations are currently being determined and will be communicated in writing to license holders.

LD 1625 authorizes the commissioner to establish, by emergency rule, an elver fishing quota for the state. The new quota-based approach is the result of an agreement crafted by Commissioner Keliher with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the interstate compact that establishes the regulatory framework for member states. The agreement established a quota for Maine during the 2014 season that is 35 percent less than the 2013 season dealer-reported landings, which totaled 18,076 pounds.

Per LD 1625, 21.9 percent of the overall annual quota will be allocated to Maine's federally recognized Indian tribes. Of the 21.9 percent, the Passamaquoddy Tribe will be allocated 14 percent of the overall annual quota, while the Penobscot Nation will be allocated 6.4 percent of the overall annual quota; the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians will be allocated 1.1 percent, and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs will be allocated 0.4 percent of the overall annual quota. Five percent will be withheld from each tribe's allocation as a buffer.

The law requires that each tribe provide documentation to the department of the allocation for each individual license holder. There are 48 Penobscot Nation license holders, 16 Houlton Band of Maliseet license holders, and eight members of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs. LD 1625 authorizes the Passamaquoddy tribe to issue an unlimited number of licenses, of which six can use fyke nets and the remainder must use dip nets.

The remaining 79.1 percent of the overall annual quota will be allocated to 436 non-tribal eligible license holders based on calculations currently under consideration by the commissioner.

The department will issue notification of the individual fishing quotas to licensed harvesters as well as instructions for distribution of the elver transaction swipe cards in the coming week.

The season will end May 31, 2014, or prior to that date if the state's overall quota is reached.