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Monday, October 29, 2007

Maine Wants You -- Or Just Your Money!

(Photo from Maine Sea Grant)
If you have any thoughts of moving to Maine to realize your dream of becoming a commercial fisherman, please read on so I can save you a great deal of aggravation, time and money.

The simple truth is, the State of Maine (and by this I'm referring to the government, or more correctly a management body intent on sucking every last dime and ounce of motivation from its citizens) doesn't want you here, at least not if you're planning to work as a commercial fisherman. What they really want are rich retired people who they can sponge off of through real estate, income, estate and other taxes, and welfare families, who will, by their very presence, legitimize the need for bigger government and further socialization of services.

If I sound irritated it's because I just got off the phone with someone in the Maine Department of Marine Resources, who, through no fault of her own, had to tell me I was shit out of luck. I wanted to get a scallop diver permit and a scallop tender permit, which I held fifteen years ago. Could I get these? No. Why not? Because in 1995 they (our illustrious leaders in Augusta) passed a law requiring all harvesters to take a scallop and urchin collection course, for which, of course, you have to pay. I've done a lot of things in my life and collecting scallops and/or urchins was not one of the ones that required an excessive degree of intelligence. But, who am I to say we shouldn't have to take a course? Sure, I tell the lady on the phone, I'll take a course.

"Well, actually," she says. "We don't have one scheduled."

Isn't that great government in action? People call up to get a license that will allow them to legally harvest fish from state waters. However, before a license can be issued, the government requires you to take a course it doesn't have.

When I first moved here, I tried to eek out a living as a charter boat captain. I took fishing and diving charters in the summer and harvested scallops and urchins in the winter. When the ground fish stocks tumbled because of overfishing and piss poor fisheries management, I had no choice but to shift my business to eco-tours. I bought a different boat and let my winter harvesting licenses lapse. Now I can't get them back. Moreover, the eco-tour business went down the tubes when the state and feds allowed the herring boats to pair trawl. The pair trawlers sucked so many fish out of the sea the whales and pelagic birds had no choice but to head farther offshore, out of range of the small eco-tour boats.

So I sold the eco-tour boat and decided to get back into commercial fishing. Not so easy. My tax return states I've been a charter and sightseeing boat, and now the state requires me to pay sales tax. That's money I was going to use to rig up for scallop dragging. OK, no problem, I say, I'll take a couple of scallop divers instead (no more urchin permits available), and go dragging next year.

But noooo. I can't take scallop divers because I don't have the scallop diver safety course, which I'm betting is about as useful as having a dozen nipples on your forehead.

Fishermen have a sweet deal with this state. They don't have to pay sales tax on their boats and/or boat related gear. They don't have to pay sales tax on their fishing supplies. They get to deduct their trucks and a portion of their homes. They get special no interest loans. They get a break on fiscal deadlines. If they wish, they can get real estate tax breaks on their shore frontage. In fact, if you have a dragger and you don't want to go fishing anymore, the federal government will buy you out. Your tax dollars at work.

Charter boat and other commercial boat operators don't get these breaks. They pay all taxes on their vessels and boat related equipment. They can't deduct their pick ups unless they have a second vehicle. And they don't get a break on a portion of their homes unless they designate an area as an office and maintain a separate phone.

I don't begrudge commercial fishermen their entitlements; I am not pissed off because the state has decided to give commercial fishermen a break. I am pissed because -- in an industry that profits from a natural resource that effectively belongs to all -- the state has decided it, and it alone, determines who and who doesn't become a commercial fisherman.

-seabgb

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