The Feds have decided the Maine halibut is over-fished. Consequently, DMR has little recourse but to impose new fishing restrictions, i.e. there will be new minimum size limits and new catch limits. We're looking at a minimum size of 41" and a catch limit of 30 fish per fisherman. Recreational fisherman are limited to one fish per day.
To say this has pissed off a few fisherman is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Fishermen feel as if they're being pushed out of the resource altogether.
Look, I'm all for conservation of resource, and I'm a firm believer that commercial fishing is a privilege and not a right. And I'm also convinced that commercial fishing has done as much harm, if not more, to the resource than coastal development and pollution. But -- and it's a big but -- the feds and the state have contributed greatly to the problem of ecological collapse.
First, they operate in a knee-jerk capacity. Instead of being pro-active they're reactive, and all final decisions are highly political. Regulations are determined based on questionable science and compromise solutions.
In the halibut debate, fishermen claim there are plenty of fish. Well, guess what? They always say that. Let's face it. Fishermen lie. They lie to the feds. They lie to each other. They lie to themselves. Maybe they don't even think they're lying. Sure, there are plenty of fish, based on what? Based on how many they caught in previous years? How many years? One? Ten? It doesn't take a genius to see what has happened to the Gulf of Maine over the last twenty years alone. And fishermen should see it and know it before anyone else.
But the state and the feds are equally out there in fantasy land. They say they're being pro-active by making sure all the 950-plus people who have licenses don't got out next winter and decimate the fishery. Well, if they're worried about that, why don't they just freeze licenses? Why don't they turn all fishing licenses into ITQs (Individual Transferable Quotas)?
The state and the feds are thinking ideologically. They are not taking into consideration reality:
1. Most of the halibut endorsements on the books belong to lobstermen and others who will never fish for halibut. They got their endorsement because they figured if they didn't get one the state would take away their privilege. Who could blame them? The state has taken away scallop permits and urchin permits from fishermen who have let their permits expire. I can attest to this because I'm one of the ones who lost both his urchin and scallop permits.
2. Fishermen who hold Federal Fishing Permits for groundfish are limited to one halibut per day and can't fish the same way fishermen with state licenses can fish. My 2,500 hook groundfish permit went to 400 pounds per day, then to 75 pounds per day. My current federal permit for groundfish is for 75 pounds a day, but this permit is for all groundfish, including halibut. What happens if I catch a 150 pound halibut? I'll tell you what happens. I have to throw it back dead. How ridiculous is that?
3. There are plenty of fishermen who catch and sell halibut without a license, permit or any regard to the law, and there are not enough marine patrol officers or other law enforcement personnel to monitor these and/or any other infractions or violations of fishery laws.
I understand why fisherman are pissed and I sympathize. They seem to get nothing in return for their sacrifice except more and more regulations and laws and more and more costs. The state is now looking at raising the price of lobster tags. What??!! They've done nothing to help the lobstermen deal with the rising costs of fuel and bait or the drop in price of lobsters, and all they've done is used revenues to create more restrictions and bureacracy. It's almost conspiritorial the way the feds and industry work together to create gear, equipment, and electronics that fishermen have to buy in order to keep fishing.
So what should we do? I think it's simple.
Freeze licenses and turn everything on the books to ITQs based on catch records. Give fishermen a chance to have something of value on the back end. Give them something to work toward. A business they can sell.
Forget these stupid size and catch limit regulations. Forget the days-at-sea limit crap. None of these are working. They're barely enforceable, starving-out fishermen, and they're based on questionable science. Instead, create no-fishing conservation zones. Fish need a refuge, a place where they can rebound without interference from fishermen AND regulators.