February 24,  2006   






Fishermen's forum debates
support for lobster hatcheries

by Edward French            

     The question of whether the state should financially support lobster hatcheries and the recording of a significant decline in the number of commercial fisheries licenses in the Cobscook Bay area were among the topics discussed at the eighth annual Cobscook Fisheries Forum, held February 11 at the Boat School in Eastport.

     Following presentations on the lobster hatcheries in Stonington and at the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education in Beals, John Drouin of Cutler, chairman of the Zone A Lobster Council, stated that the Zone A council wants to look into supporting the hatcheries through the use of Lobster Fund monies. The monies are from lobster license fees, and he understands that each zone council has a voice in how its money is used. Noting that state law says the fund can be used to assist hatcheries, he commented, "It won't replenish the fishery, but we feel it would be spending the money wisely."

     Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe commented, "We have to determine the efficacy of the program C is it worthwhile? Until we determine that, we shouldn't go whole hog into it." Noting that efforts to restock rivers by releasing hundreds of millions of salmon from hatcheries have "not done much," he commented, "I am skeptical. We should find out if it really works." He quoted a cost of between $40 and $60 to grow a lobster to legal size. "We need to look critically at the numbers that go into the hatcheries."

     Brian Beal, professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias, said a 1999 report by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) was not based on current information and used a European model for growing lobsters. He said the production capacity of the Downeast Institute hatchery "is enormous."

     Bob Peacock of R.J. Peacock Canning in Lubec commented, "I feel the DMR has a bias against hatcheries." He noted that the sea urchin hatchery at Peacock Canning did not seek any state funding for that reason. "The same thing that happened to urchins can happen to lobsters," he said, referring to the depletion of the resource. "We should be prepared."

     Will Hopkins of the Cobscook Bay Resource Center suggested that the hatcheries and the Zone A council find funding other than through the state, and Lapointe commented, "We wouldn't raise a barrier to that." All of the fishermen present indicated that they would support in helping find funding to look at whether lobster hatcheries will work.

     Efforts to grow lobsters at the Downeast Institute were reviewed by Beal. Results of a study from a nearly year-long study showed a nearly 75% survival rate for lobsters raised in petri dishes and a 91.7% survival rate for ones in petri dishes with larger holes. He noted that the lobsters doubled in size in one year. Along with trying to improve the growth rates, Beal commented, "We want to produce them very cheaply."

     The Zone C lobster hatchery in Stonington aims to restock areas that have recently become depleted. A presentation by Ted Ames and Robin Alden noted that the hatchery is expected to produce 150,000 juveniles per year for Zone C fishermen, and fishermen will help identify areas where they feel lobsters are needed.

Decrease in licenses
     A report by the resource center showed a 9.3% decrease in the number of licenses sold to Cobscook Bay fishermen from 2004 to 2005 and a 28% decrease in the number of people buying licenses. The number of licenses dropped from 771 to 699, and the number of individuals decreased from 440 to 318.

     The decreases in license sales were most pronounced, in terms of total number of licenses sold, for commercial shellfish, with a 18.4% decrease to 120 licenses, commercial fishing, with a 12.9% decrease to 203, and lobster/crab, with a 8.1% decrease to 158. The only license that increased in the number of sales was for marine worms, with 9 sold.

     A comment was made that the decrease may reflect a drop in people who were buying licenses that were not being used. "It may be more an indicator of loss of hope rather than a loss of effort," noted Hopkins.

Red-tide impact
     A report on red tide and phytoplankton blooms noted that, in 2005, 69 days for shellfish harvesting were lost to red-tide closures and 50 days to flood closures. In 2004, 77 days were lost to red tide and 20 days to flood closures. Reasons for the increase in red-tide closures include the following: bad spring storms bring the toxic phytoplankton Alexandrium in from offshore; cysts are left over in the inshore areas from the previous fall's blooms; and more freshwater has been entering the Gulf of Maine in the past two years than during the 10 previous years.

     Brian Beal commented that if those many days were lost by a corn farmer, the federal government would be assisting in any way it could. "It really bothers me that clammers don't have the same foothold."

     State Senator Kevin Raye of Perry commented that U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe had tried to secure funding for the clam diggers and that the request was proceeding well until Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and federal aid "got sucked into that maelstrom."

     Will Hopkins commented that it appears as though the area will be experiencing more toxic blooms in the future, and perhaps a coalition of those people who are affected is needed to gain federal support.

     Two Maine legislative bills are being considered to add staff for water-quality monitoring, which would help shorten red-tide closures. Raye reported that the Marine Resources Committee is supporting the addition of seven more personnel for testing. He also noted that a legislative hearing on a bill he is sponsoring to provide funding for the Boat School in Eastport will likely be held in March.

Fishermen's association
     Harry Shain, chairman of the Cobscook Bay Fishermen's Association, reviewed issues considered during the year, including the scallop meat count, changes to the federal herring management plan and a lobster/urchin gear conflict. This past fall some lobstermen lost traps because of urchin dragging, particularly in the Lubec Narrows. A letter was sent to DMR Commissioner Lapointe asking that he consider the gear conflict when establishing the urchin season dates for next year.

     Lapointe noted that the DMR did not plan on changing the number of days for the urchin season next year, but the season dates will be discussed following the Maine Fishermen's Forum in March.

     Shain noted that the association has nominated Butch Harris for a position on the DMR Advisory Council, since David Turner's term is ending.

     The association has held several meetings concerning the LNG proposals for Passamaquoddy Bay. Shain noted, "We've already lost members from the association, who are divided over this issue. We've struggled with whether the association should support any one of the three plans over any of the others, whether we should support any LNG proposal at all, or whether we should oppose very LNG proposal." He said the association believes it does not have enough information to support one proposal over another. "Until we know the actual security plans to be implemented by the Coast Guard, we don't know how any of these plans will affect our ability to move freely on the water."

Other issues
     Kevin Athearn, an assistant professor at UMM, reviewed a Cobscook scallop market study, which revealed about 155,000 pounds were harvested from Cobscook Bay during the 2004-05 season, with an ex-vessel value of about $1 million. Suggestions for obtaining a better price included forming a cooperative, seeking out niche markets, setting quality standards, labeling, promoting the product and value-added processing.

     Will Hopkins reviewed the efforts to establish a marketing cooperative for scallops in the building now owned by the Cobscook Bay Resource Center at the head of the Eastport breakwater. The coop could help increase the value of the scallops by freezing and holding them until the price increased. He also spoke about developing a community kitchen in the building, to be used for crabmeat picking or other needs.

     The fishermen's association has discussed waterfront access points around the bay that might be at risk of being lost. Those include: Globe Cove in Lubec, Horse Landing Road in Perry, points off the North Lubec Road, and Loring Cove in Perry. Hopkins reported on a survey of access points in Cobscook Bay, and over 50 were identified in Eastport alone. The data will be used on digital maps and provided to town officials. He noted, "Preserving waterfront access isn't only about legal access; it's also about maintaining the physical facilities without which we would lose access to the water." He commented on the need for rebuilding of the breakwater and observed that work on that effort should begin now. A brochure about the working waterfront in Washington County is planned by the Washington County Council of Governments, if funding is obtained.

     Other presentations concerned Didemnum, a non-native, invasive tunicate, or sea squirt, that was found in Cobscook Bay in August 2006 by Larry Harris of the University of New Hampshire. The species can take over the bottom and affect the scallop resource. A report on the Cobscook Bay drift study research project showed the flow of barrel drifters into Cobscook Bay on the flood tide.

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