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Business and Economy

Bill would extend predawn lobstering hours into September

Virus Outbreak Maine Daily Life
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
The lobster boat Deborah & Megan II motors out to sea at dawn, Thursday, May 21, 2020, off South Portland, Maine.

Lawmakers on the Maine Legislature's Marine Resources Committee have fast-tracked a bill that will allow lobstermen to haul traps during the predawn hours in the month of September. The proposal is one of several under consideration to provide relief to the industry.

Maine has traditionally prohibited lobstering until a half hour before sunrise and a half hour after sunset. Five years ago the Legislature upended that policy in the month of October, allowing trap hauling to begin at 4 a.m.

The bill unanimously approved by the Marine Resources Committee on Tuesday extends that same start time to September, a move that will give lobstermen a 90-minute jumpstart at the beginning of the month and a two-hour one at the end of the month, compared to what they have now.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Genevieve McDonald, a Democrat from Stonington, said the legislation will allow lobstermen to fish when the weather is calmer in the morning and when they have to travel further offshore as they chase lobsters’ fall migration to deeper, colder water.

John Drouin, a lobsterman from Cutler, told the committee that the industry has already demonstrated that it can safely haul in predawn hours and that it's some relief from new regulations poised to dramatically change the industry.

"This bill gives a little something to the fishermen when so much is being asked of them, or as many believe, being taken away from us," Drouin said.

The administration of Gov. Janet Mills backed the proposal via an endorsement from the Department of Marine Resources.

That endorsement — along with the committee’s unanimous approval immediately following the public hearing — are signals that the bill could go into effect if enacted by two-thirds of the Legislature.

Lawmakers are also considering a bill that would create a relief fund for the lobster industry.