Department of Marine Resources Responds to Misinformation Regarding Elver Fishery and Passamaquoddy Tribe
Issued April 2, 2013
The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) today addressed statements by the Passamaquoddy tribe regarding management of the elver fishery. The DMR, along with Governor LePage and his staff, has invested significant effort in attempting to work with the Passamaquoddy Tribe to reach agreement regarding tribal participation in the elver fishery so that the state will remain in compliance with the ASMFC management plan. Specifically, the Department noted that at this time the tribal management plan that the Tribe relies on as a conservation measure is not an appropriate metric for effective management of this fishery at this time.
Commissioner Patrick Keliher stated, “The Passamaquoddy Tribe has indeed put the entire elver fishery at risk for Maine fishermen, but not due to the number of pounds of elvers they are landing. Under the management plan established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Maine is restricted to issuance of 744 licenses and 1242 pieces of gear. While Maine remains well under the gear limitations, the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s issuance of 575 licenses to tribal members now puts the State out of compliance with the license limitation, regardless of the actual pounds landed. In addition, the state is obligated to enforce existing state law in order to remain compliant with the ASMFC plan. Closure of the second largest fishery (second the lobster fishery for year 2012) would have a significant and detrimental impact on hundreds of Maine families, Maine people, and the economy at large.”
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is a compact formed by the 15 Atlantic States that coordinates the conservation and management of fisheries in shared state waters. Given that American Eels are a depleted stock and currently being considered for an Endangered Species Act listing, the Commissioner discussed compliance issues with Robert Beal, Executive Director of the ASMFC. Mr. Beal underscored the critical importance of full compliance with the Commission’s American Eel Fishery Management Plan as “critical to fully and effectively implementing and enforcing a sustainable coast-wide fishery management plan for all life stages of the American eel stock.”
The elver season opened on Friday, March 22. On Friday, March 29, DMR received a list of tribal members to whom elver harvesting licenses had been issued by the Tribe. This list included 575 names, numbered sequentially. Despite the clear violation of the license cap established in LD 451 and week-long noncompliance with state law for failure to provide the list of tribal licenses, the Department validated the first 150 licenses in good faith. The DMR then notified the Tribe, as well as licensed dealers, which licenses had been validated, and began notifying harvesters that anyone fishing without a validated license would be in violation of state law and summonsed, beginning on Sunday, March 31. Under LD 451, the Tribe is authorized to issue an additional 50 licenses with the St. Croix, dip net-only restriction. To date, the tribe has not provided these additional 50 licenses to DMR for validation.
The Department of Marine Resources reiterated that the licensing requirements placed on the Passamaquoddy Tribe are an interim approach for this year only, and will be revisited following the May Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting, where the quota management approach is being considered as part of the Fishery Management Plan.
In 1997, the Passamaquoddy Tribe obtained the authority through a change in state law to issue licenses for the harvest of marine resources to its members. Included in this legislation was the requirement that a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe issued a tribal license to conduct activities is subject to all laws and rules applicable to a person who holds a state license or permit to conduct those activities. At the time the law was passed, lobster and sea urchin were the only limited entry fisheries – accordingly, the Tribe was allocated a fixed number of licenses for each of these fisheries (24 of each).
Since that time, the elver fishery has become a limited entry fishery, and yet the law regarding the Passamaquoddy licenses was never amended to reflect the need to cap licenses at an appropriate level. In 2011 and 2012, licenses for the Penobscot Nation and Aroostook Band of Micmacs, respectively, were capped at 8 licenses each. In 2011, the decision to not cap the Passamaquoddy Tribe was not particularly problematic, since they only issued 2 commercial elver licenses that year. However, in 2012, following the start of the elver season, the Passamaquoddy Tribe issued 237 licenses to their members, each for up to 2 pieces of gear (a fyke net and a dip net).
In accordance with the recently-enacted LD 451, the Passamaquoddy Tribe may not issue to members of the tribe commercial licenses for the taking of elvers in any calendar year that exceed the following limits:
(1) One hundred twenty-four licenses that allow the taking of elvers with one piece of gear only, consisting of either an elver fyke net or a dip net;
(2) An additional 26 licenses that allow the taking of elvers with 2 pieces of gear, consisting of an elver fyke net and a dip net; and
(3) An additional 50 limited licenses that allow the taking of elvers only in the St. Croix River and only with a dip net.
Prior to passage of LD 451, which authorized an additional 25 dip net licenses to be issued, the Department of Marine Resources has issued a total of 407 state licenses in 2012, many of which have only one piece of gear.