A lot has changed since the current licensing system for Maine’s lobster fishery was created almost two decades ago. Landings have almost doubled and shifted eastward, fuel costs have tripled, and the estimated wait time for a license in most zones has grown to greater than 20 years.
During the summer of 2012, Maine’s State Legislature and Department of Marine Resources (DMR) contracted GMRI to conduct an independent, objective examination of the limited-entry licensing system and look for potential ways to improve it. We held a series of public meetings to understand the concerns of affected communities and conducted a written survey of more than 7,000 licensed lobstermen, apprentices, and individuals on the waiting lists.
A key finding was that management of the fishery is being significantly complicated by a disconnect between how much lobstermen are licensed to fishand how much they actually fish. This “latent effort” poses a significant threat to the lobster population as the number of traps in the water can double without additional licenses being issued.
The final report offered several recommendations designed to protect the fishery, reduce wait times, support coastal economies, and establish a method to prevent overfishing of the lobster population. One such proposal was the creation of a tiered licensing system that would assign scale licenses based on lobstermen’s landings history. This approach would greatly reduce the latent effort in the system, and it would allow new lobstermen to start with a smaller number of traps and increase over time.
The report has provided us with valuable insights into the lobster fishery and inspired us to seek out answers to a number of questions that have emerged from our research:
- How did the 2012 ocean heat wave affect the profitability and timing of landing in each zone? What does this tell us about the future if temperatures continue to rise?
- How does the timing of the summer lobster harvest interact with the international market structure of the lobster industry? Is there way for lobstermen to pace their landings in a way that would maintain a higher value for Maine lobsters?
Look for updates on our efforts to answer these questions as our research progresses.