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Lobster License Fee May Rise in Order to Blunt Budget Reduction and Aid Sustainability

A sternman holds a lobster caught off South Bristol, Maine.
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File
A sternman holds a lobster caught off South Bristol, Maine.

The LePage administration wants to jack up fees for commercial fishing licenses. Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher says the revenues would go into research, and meet the governor’s directive for a flat budget.

Keliher says the fee increases, totaling more than $660,000, are the first by the department in seven years. They run a gamut from a one dollar spike for a green crab license, to over $100 for a lobsterman with a two-person crew.

He told lawmakers Wednesday that the money would be used in part to insure that his agency is researching changes to the state’s most lucrative, and iconic, fishery: lobster.

“I want to invest in this fishery much more heavily now that we know change could potentially be coming. I’d rather invest now in that, then worry about federal disaster relief when things really start to change,” he says.

To reinforce his concern, Keliher cited research finding that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans. Scientists also believe the spiked temperatures led to the collapse of the cod fishing industry.

Now, Keliher says the state needs to keep an eye on a lobster industry conservatively valued at over $1.5 billion.

Annie Tselikis, director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, says the department is “woefully underfunded,” even with the fee increases.

“We have historically not had the opportunity to do anything other than basic monitoring and surveying of this fishery,” she says.

Tselikis says that’s a big problem for a fishery estimated to make up over 70% of the state’s marine economy.

Keliher says the license fees are also aimed at keep the department’s budget flat-funded, at a time when the governor is pursuing big cuts in the state income tax.

The proposal is set for additional review later next month as lawmakers dig into the governor’s two-year budget.