N.B. lobster fishermen worry about Maine bycatch law
Fishermen in New Brunswick are warning that a bill before Maine's legislature to allow bycatch lobster caught in trawling nets be sold by fishermen who otherwise would have to throw them back could be abused.
Greg Thompson said he has the confidence of knowing only fishermen with licences like him are allowed to sell lobster in New Brunswick.
He's a believer in regulating all fisheries to prevent a free-for-all on the ocean.
"I would occasionally catch a ground fish in my lobster trap, occasionally a cod or a dog fish, or a haddock, or a flounder, but I am required to return them to the water," said Thompson, president of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association.
But if the new law passes, Maine lobster fishermen might not have the same requirements.
It would allow lobster caught as bycatch in ground fish drag nets to be kept and sold.
The law came up in 2007, but was met with fierce opposition.
This time it has support from Maine's Department of Marine Resources.
"I want to begin by acknowledging that this issue is extremely sensitive, and underscore that the decision of the department to support this bill is based on our desire to preserve a future for Maine's groundfishing industry, and the fact that the lobsters we are discussing today are already being landed without any benefit to the state of Maine," wrote representative Meredith Mendelson in a statement.
But Thompson warns the law could be open to abuse.
"Nets can be rigged to fish differently depending on what you're targeting. I have a little fish dragger and I do know that they will catch lobster if you're in the right place and have your net rigged properly. So the fear of allowing other fisheries to keep bycatch is they would begin to target and that would be counter-productive for conservation rules," he said.
Thompson said after last summer's lobster glut forced down prices the proposal isn’t likely to make fishermen in the U.S. or New Brunswick happy.