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April 17, 2013

Maine lobster bill a threat to Gloucester

The Maine legislature is considering a bill backed by Gov. Paul LePage that would eliminate the legal bar to allowing lobsters caught by accident in the nets of trawlers to be landed in Portland — a change that could induce the owner of the state’s largest fleet of groundfishing boats to abandon Gloucester’s port for the primary one in his home state.

Between 12 and 15 Portland boats unload in Gloucester, in part to cash in on the lobsters landed as bycatch along with groundfish; the Maine boats account for a significant proportion of the groundfish landed and sold in Gloucester, according to Kristian Kristensen, who owns the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange, but a small proportion of the lobsters.

The influential Maine Lobstermen’s Association opposes the bill filed by Sen. Ann Haskell of Portland. By far the dominant state in lobster landings — by a factor of 10 ahead of the No. 2 state, Massachusetts — Maine is the region’s only coastal state to prevent the sale of lobsters hauled up as bycatch.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said her organization is supportive of the groundfishing industry, but believes that traps are the only responsible way to fish for lobster. Traps, she said in an telephone interview Tuesday, discourage large lobsters and egg-bearing females from getting caught and law requires and traps allow for the safest release of egg-bearing females.

Trawl nets, in contrast, McCarron said, easily harm lobsters by the compression against thousands of pounds of fish. McCarron also said that human nature in its weakness tends to target lobsters for sale in states such as Massachusetts which allows the landing of 100 lobsters a day and up to 500 a week. Lest anyone doubt her that some trawlfishing boats target lobsters, she said there is a Facebook poster, a Gloucester groundfisherman, who brags on his page that he recently took 473 lobsters “in one two-hour tow” including 148 keepers.

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