Trying to make a living
As soon as Old Man Winter indicates he’s loosening his grip on the Maine coast and spring is finally in the air, lobstermen will begin to rig their traps in preparation for the upcoming fishing season. One of their prime concerns this year, as in any year, will be questions about bait supplies and costs.
Like other businessmen, how much money lobstermen take home at the end of the day, and what their annual profits will be, depends upon their costs and the price per pound their lobsters bring at the dock. In addition to any boat payments they may have, and for some fishermen with newer boats, these are high, they’ll be eyeing current fuel and bait costs.Depending upon how many traps they haul per day, some lobstermen can use as much as two or three barrels of bait every day they go out, and if this summer is anything like last year, a barrel of bait can cost them close to $200 for herring or a little less for pogies, which now must come from waters to our south rather than here in Maine. As bait supplies dwindle, prices go up. The New England Fishery Management Council places restrictions on bycatch to insure that species such as haddock aren’t taken incidentally in herring seines, while the Department of Marine Resources and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission control landings to guard against overfishing.
With bait both scarce and costly, we found it hard to understand why a bill is being considered here in Maine, LD 704, which would give the Department of Marine Fisheries commissioner the authority to restrict new herring vessels into the fishery if they show no history of landings prior to January 2017 – in other words, if you’re not already in the fishery, you can’t get in.
Over the years, when bait has been scarce, small boat owners often decided to go bait fishing, sometimes just for themselves or to sell locally to help ease the bait shortage. This bill wouldn’t let this happen; the herring fishery for bait would be restricted to only the few larger vessels already in the fishery as of the beginning of 2017.It doesn’t make much sense to give added control of bait supplies to a few select boats and to limit such a vital fishery at a time when the odds are good that bait will continue to be scarce and prices will keep going up, up, up.
The last thing we want to do is encourage legislation which will make matters worse for our fishermen. We hate to see Maine keep pushing the small, independent fisherman out.