Proposed fund could help Maine lobstermen test new fishing gear
State lawmakers are considering a measure that would create a new fund to help lobster fishermen test gear designed to reduce designed to reduce entanglement risks to endangered North Atlantic right whales.
The proposed fund would set aside $1 million for each of the next two years. The money would be paid to lobster fishermen who test ropeless and other kinds of new fishing gear designed to minimize interactions with right whales.
The most recent federal spending bill set aside nearly $20 million for fishing gear.
But Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said it's reasonable that lobstermen receive a stipend for the work itself.
"Testing may require them to fish gear in an area that is less productive than they would normally choose," he told Legislature's Marine Resources Committee on Thursday. "It would take additional time dealing with new gear that negatively impacts the profitability or requires them time and reporting on their experience."
So-called ropeless or on-demand fishing gear isn't particularly popular with many Maine lobstermen.
But both state regulators and the Maine Lobstermen's Association support the measure, because they said fishermen will need a variety of new tools that will work in different locations and vessels of all sizes.
And Patrice McCarron, policy director for the MLA, said says the state's lobster fishery needs to be prepared with its own solutions when the existing pause on new federal regulations lifts in 2028.
"This is important because it puts some of the power into the state of Maine and allows us to prioritize gear testing other than ropeless fishing," she said. "We can continue to test ropeless fishing here in Maine in a way that makes sense for Maine."