Moosabec Lobstermen Seek Trawl Ban East of Head Harbor
by Nancy Beal
“If nothing is done to correct the problem folks might seek a more aggressive solution that’s not necessarily legal.”
—Frank Smith, Jonesport
Zone A Council calls for Four-Traps Per Buoy Limit Referendum
An unusually large crowd of fishermen turned out for a Zone A council meeting in the lecture hall of the University of Maine at Machias science building on January 11. The issue that attracted more than 40 lobstermen and all eight district representatives of the zone council was the proposed limit of the number of traps on a warp to four in the waters between Moosepeak and Libby Island Lights. The southern boundary would be the so-called “Whale Line.” Inside this line, gear regulations designed to reduce entanglements with right whales are exempted.
The measure was introduced by Robert Beal, of Beals Island, a well-known boat builder who fishes full time in the waters targeted who had circulated a petition in the Moosabec area calling for the restriction. It was prompted by the recent appearance of newcomers who brought their 15- and 20-trap trawls in from offshore and set them in the inside waters. Trawls are marked by large plastic balloons and held in place by heavy anchors on each end. When set upon triples and fours attached by styrofoam buoys traditionally fished in the area, they entangle the smaller groups, sink them, and hang down.
Beal emphasized that the snarls that resulted and the attempts by buoy fishermen to free up hung down traps from the heavier trawls was not only difficult, time-consuming and damaging their gear, but dangerous. His brother Willis, he said, had the finger of a glove torn off while trying to extricate his traps from a trawl.. “We’re not asking [trawl fishermen] not to fish in the area,” said Beal, “Just to fish like everyone else.”
“Trawls and buoys don’t mix,” said Ricky Sawyer of Columbia, who fishes out of the Moosabec area. “Guys fishing trawls don't want buoys underneath, and those fishing buoys don't want trawls on top of them. It's a huge safety issue.” Frank Smith of Jonesport said the problem arose from a "select group with 30 trap trawls, in 150 feet of water that are trying to drive us out. “If nothing is done to correct the problem, he predicted folks might seek “a more aggressive solution that's not necessarily legal.” To date, there have been no reports of trap cutting.
The only opposition came from Milton Merchant and his son David, of Jonesport, who asked if the issue was danger from entanglements and hang-downs, it wouldn’t be equally dangerous outside the whale line, where the intermingling of buoy and trawl fishing also exists. The response from proponents of the restriction inside the whale line was that inside waters were more congested because those who fished there were limited to inside waters. Most of the waters outside the whale line were Federal waters, which require a special limited-number permit that is now very difficult and costly to come by.
Sarah Cotnoir, Department of Marine Resources (DMR) resource manager and liaison to zone councils, spoke about the legal process by which the number of traps on a line could be restricted. First, she said, the Zone A Council would vote to hold a referendum on the issue. Wording of the referendum would be drawn up with help from the DMR, which would print the ballots and mail them to all licensed fishermen in the zone. If two-thirds of those voting responded “yes” the issue would return to the zone council for another vote. If the measure failed at any point, it could not be revisited for a year, she said.
Following a second favorable vote by the zone council, the issue would enter a rule-making process for review and resolution before becoming mandatory and enforceable by marine patrol officers. Earlier, Cotnoir had reported that newly installed Governor Paul LePage had issued an executive order on rule-making, lengthening the comment period to 90 days.
There was some discussion about whether to ask that the restriction be made zone-wide or limited only to the “dragging bottom,” as the area between Moosepeak and Libby Island Lights is locally known. Smith suggested calling for a zone-wide ban on trawls inside the whale line, suggesting that it would give “our children a chance to learn to lobster fish.”
Sawyer said the reason he and Beal had limited the area in their petition was to avoid “kicking sand in the faces” of fishermen just east of Libby Island who, because of dramatic tides, had traditionally fished trawls. Smith’s younger brother Richard of Beals Island suggested that the measure would have a better chance of being adopted if it were limited to the restricted area. Norbert Lemieux said that most of the responses to the referendum, if it were restricted to the smaller area, would come from those who fish in that area, and would therefore better represent the wishes of those affected.
As Zone Council chairman John Drouin of Cutler called for a vote by the full council, Dwight Carver, Beals representative, moved to initiate the referendum for the small area. Six of his colleagues joined in a “yes” vote. Bobby Ingalls of Buck’s Harbor, who represents the district just east of the targeted area, abstained.
Following the meeting, several of those gathered outside the meeting hall observed that the eastern line could could be more carefully drawn to eliminate Ram and Scabby Islands, which are slightly west of a line drawn due north from the Libbys Light and where trawls have traditionally been fished.