All Maine lobstermen will have to start giving up their most treasured fishing secrets, including where they set their traps and how much they catch, in five years.

Starting in 2023, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will require all lobster fishermen to submit detailed reports on their fishing activities, including those in Maine, the nation’s lobster capital, where current regulations only require 10 percent of licensed lobstermen to share their fishing data. In other states, lobster fishermen have been submitting reports on every trip for years.

The commission was considering a plan to require Maine lobstermen to begin filling out these reports immediately, but Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher argued against it. He said it would require state government to hire five employees and raise industry fees by $500,000 to review that many paper records. Keliher said he would rather wait a couple of years for the development of a cheap and easy electronic monitoring system before requiring 100 percent reporting in Maine.

“I’d rather spend my money on things that are more important at this time while we focus on electronic reporting development,” Keliher told the commission.

Fisheries managers say the data is necessary to assess the health of the Gulf of Maine lobster stock and understand the economic impact of other ocean projects, such as deep-sea coral protections or wind farms, on the valuable lobster fishery. In Maine, which lands 83 percent of the nation’s lobsters, the industry caught more than 130 million pounds of lobster valued at $533.1 million in 2016.

“As the lobster and crab fisheries continue to shift operations further offshore, they are going to increasingly interact with other federally managed fisheries,” said Terry Stockwell, who was representing the New England Fisheries Management Council. “There are a number of offshore wind and other energy projects being proposed. It’s important that we all understand the patterns of effort so we can better consider other overlaps between these fisheries.”

Without Maine data, federal lobster management decisions are made in the dark, said lobster analyst Peter Burns of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We have a big black hole of reporting somewhere in the Gulf of Maine and into Georges Bank,” Burns told the commission.

But Keliher reminded the commission that its own scientists had confirmed that 10 percent of the country’s largest lobster fishery – especially after tweaking the selection process to make sure that only active lobstermen in every license category in each of the state’s seven lobster zones are counted – was enough to give state and federal scientists or regulators statistically valid data. Even at 10 percent reporting, Maine already collects 100,000 harvester trip reports, Keliher said.

After months of review, a handful of public hearings and hours of debate, the commission voted to give Keliher what he wanted – complete harvester reporting, but only after five years. Analysts reporting to the commission said that was plenty of time to refine an electronic reporting system that met the data requirements while also being cheap and easy to use. It agreed to allow fishermen who live in far-flung areas to still use paper records if electronic reporting was not possible.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

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Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

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