Coral Areas Off MDI On Table

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The soft coral Primnoa resedaeformis, seen here upper left, is most common at the inshore sites (Mt. Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge), while Paramuricea placomus is more common in the offshore basin sites, although it is found inshore as well. Photo courtesy of Peter Auster, University of Connecticut

yet fully developed, it has alternatives that will allow for both the prohibition and exemption of lobster and crab fishing from the proposed Outer Schoodic Ridge and Mount Desert Rock coral protection areas.

Terry Stockwell, Department of Marine Resources [DMR] Director of External Affairs and New England Fisheries Management Council [NEFMC] vice-chairman, proposed that the lobster and crab fisheries be exempted from the protected Outer Schoodic Ridge and Mount Desert Rock coral areas.

He called the lobster fishery the primary economic driver for Hancock and Washington counties stating, “More than 100 vessels from 15 downeast harbors fish in the two proposed coral areas.” Having to stop fishing in these two areas, he said could potentially impact 400 jobs, including the families of the fishermen. According to Maine’s Department of Marine Resources [DMR] statistics, Stockwell said the loss of income from the two protected coral bed areas could come to more than $4 million and that the $4 million represents at least 50 percent of the vessels’ income.

Stockwell said the DMR recently met with the Lobster Advisory Council to begin educating fishermen and that the Maine Lobstermen’s Association [MLA] has begun engaging with its board. He added that the DMR also plans to host an informal seminar at the Fishermen’s Forum and will schedule multiple industry meetings later in the spring before the NEFMC public hearings. He said he expects final action on the Draft Amendment this year. Fishermen’s Voice asked four fishermen who fish in the Outer Schoodic Ridge and Mount Desert Rock coral areas for their opinions on the issue.

Jim Dow, 52, of Bass Harbor, fishes around Mount Desert Rock. “My concern,” he said, “is that lobster traps are set and raised, not dragged across the bottom. Therefore, there’s minimal impact to the coral beds in the protected area.”

He thinks, though, that there’s a huge financial impact from forcing fishermen to leave the area they’re used to fishing in. He said this would produce much more pressure on nearby areas and this extra pressure would deplete these areas surrounding the protected coral bed areas.

Asked to be more specific, Dow replied, “It’s hard to put in a total dollar figure,” but as an example suggested, “If you take a five-square-mile area with 25 fishermen spread out in it who can catch from 5 to sometimes 15 lbs. per trap and force them out of that area and into an area that already has 25 fishermen in it so that you now have 50 fishermen fishing in the same area, you will reduce the catch to 2 ½ to possibly 7 lbs. per trap and will deplete the area much faster.” In other words, he said not only do you cut the landings in half, you have the problem of fishing a congested area. He noted that the lb. per trap figures he gave were a general estimate based on what he has seen in the past.

According to Dow those who fish this proposed protected area come from Stonington, Deer Isle, Sorrento, Swan’s Island, Frenchboro, Winter Harbor, Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Bass Harbor, Milbridge, Jonesport, Birch Harbor, Corea, and Islesford. Of the proposed draft amendment he said, “This would displace a lot of fishermen unnecessarily.”

A 35-year-old Deer Isle lobster fisherman who asked not to be identified reported that he has been fishing since he was ten and in the Mount Desert Rock proposed coral protected area for 15 years. He said that at different times of year he fishes as many as 30 percent of his traps (he’s allowed to fish 50 percent of his traps in a protected area) in the proposed deep sea coral protected area west of Mount Desert Rock.

“Having to avoid fishing in the coral protected area means more lines,” he stated. He then listed all the different lines he and other fishermen have to cope with: zone lines, trawl lines, coral reef lines, high flyer lines, and at times whale rope lines. “Every year of so,” he said, “there is another line on our plotters. It’s the state, or the feds, or the environmentalists. They keep adding these rules. If it’s not one group, it’s another pushing us around. It’s pushing us into a small box.” He then stated, “If you look at my chart plotter where you can go and cannot go, it’s crazy. It puts fishermen against other fishermen. Putting us into that much smaller area means more fights, more tension. Enough is enough,” he said. “It just makes it harder for us to make a living.” He added that he doesn’t have much hope that things will get better, just worse.

Richard Howland, 33, of Islesford and secretary of the Lobster Zone B Council, fishes east of the Mount Desert Rock proposed coral protected area. He feels that there will be a huge impact because of the number of people who fish the Mount Desert Rock coral protected area will be forced to fish to the east, where Howland and others fish. He has friends who fish in the protected area and said some of them fish from 90 to 100 percent of their gear in that area in the fall.

As more fishermen are displaced, Howland also said he thinks it would probably exacerbate the ongoing conflict on the Zones B and C line.

As for the financial impact of the proposed coral bed protected area on Zone B lobstermen, Howland simply stated that the increased number of fishermen in the area would divide the number of available lobsters. “I’d be hesitant to give a dollar amount,” he said; “that would be really tough to estimate, but there would definitely be a large financial impact.” Howland also mentioned a lot of unintended consequences to the displacement of fishermen. For that reason, he said, “I would really like to see some hard data before they make any sweeping regulations that have a major effect on our industry.”

“We need serious studies done,” he declared. “The way coral grows is on a vertical wall. The coral grows on the side of it. The trap doesn’t sit on the side of the wall.” Howland said he would like to see some hard data on the supposed damage of traps to coral beds, stating that lobster traps have been set in the area for years. As for displacing fishermen to other areas, he said, “It’s going to make the problem worse.”

Michael Sargent, 57, of Sullivan, fishes part of his gear in the Outer Schoodic Ridge area. He acknowledged the increasing number of rules fishermen have had to contend with in recent years and finds many of them onerous. But Sargent has no problem with the whale brake-aways. “You see a benefit,” he said. He appreciates that whales are living creatures, he enjoys seeing them, and said having to deal with whale ropes is just a matter of respecting nature.

“With the corals” he said, it’s different. Lobstermen fish fixed gear. That gear, he said, “has minimal or no effect on the coral beds.”