A DMR Update from Commissioner Keliher

2020 has been a year of change - an historic presidential election and daily disruptions from a global pandemic. But the work at Maine DMR continues as our staff has adjusted to working remotely and finding creative ways to work in the field while maintaining social distancing. Here's a summary of the work done since I last provided an update.

Science Bureau

The DMR Lobster Research Program recently completed the 2020 larval survey in Zone E. The goals of this survey are to record the abundance of larval lobsters (0-4 weeks old) in this area and document the seasonal occurrence of larvae each year. DMR researchers do this by sampling weekly from June to October. The DMR Lobster Research Program also completed research this summer to determine the size at which female lobsters become capable of egg production at different ports along the coast.

DMR science staff has been testing different methods for configuring 1700 lb. breaking strength connection points that can be integrated into the vertical lines of lobster gear to comply with upcoming protection measures for right whales. Several types of 1700 lb. weak points are being tested using a variety of ropes in different diameters and materials. Overall, DMR will have broken more than 1,000 samples in an effort to identify and document options that will be approved for use by fishermen.

DMR was recently awarded $250,000 as part of a NOAA grant to further test and develop vessel monitoring systems for lobster vessels. These funds will be used to purchase 20 monitoring devices, cover staff working to ground-truth the data being generated by the trackers, and to fund the integration of monitoring data with the new DMR harvester reporting application created by Bluefin Data.

The DMR Lobster Research Program also recently received approximately $100,000 from the 2020 National Sea Grant American Lobster Initiative to improve research into a key indicator of the lobster population's health, and to develop a publicly available database of information for use by researchers. This grant will allow DMR to leverage three years of research and develop new ways to do these studies that are less costly, faster, and more efficient than ever before.

The DMR Lobster Research Collaborative is hosting its final meeting virtually on November 9th from 9:00am to 12:30pm. This meeting will include final project summaries from participating researchers

After limited sampler coverage in May and June, DMRs Lobster Sea Sampling Program was able to move forward starting in July with a regular sampling plan of 3 trips per month in each zone, collecting biological information on the legal and discarded lobster catch on commercial boats.

The Maine Ventless Trap Program, collaborating with contracted boats to target juvenile lobsters with 276 sites coastwide, completed all survey days in June, July, and August. The DMR Lobster Settlement Survey, sampling the newly recruited on the bottom via SCUBA suction sampling, is currently underway.

DMR is working to restore runs of sea-run species to Maines rivers. Largescale projects we are currently working on are the Walton Mills dam removal in Farmington that will provide 50 miles of high quality Atlantic salmon habitat, a fishway at Baskahegan Dam in Danforth which will restore 100 miles of habitat for multiple fish species which could produce 3.5 million river herring annually, and the removal of the Milltown Dam on the St. Croix River, the first step to restoring the basin that could produce over 20 million river herring annually. DMR also continues to work towards improved fish passage at hydroelectric projects on the Lower Kennebec, Penobscot, Androscoggin, and Saco Rivers and multiple smaller watersheds that provide habitat for a number of important recreational and commercial fisheries.

DMR was recently awarded $600K from NOAA to meet the ASMFCs requirement to implement 100% lobster harvester reporting by January 2024. These funds will be used to support yearly maintenance on a new DMR harvester reporting application. The money will also allow the DMR to hire more staff to meet the needs of the approximately 6,000 harvesters that will be required to report daily trip level information. It is currently the intent of DMR to implement the 100% reporting in January 2023, however, that date is dependent on securing additional funds needed to fully implement.

Public Health Bureau

The Bureau of Public Health is closely monitoring Pseudo-nitzschia (toxic algae) blooms in the Frenchman Bay and Harpswell regions. The algae cell counts in water samples are relatively high, but the toxin in shellfish samples has so far remained below closure limits. However, because of the ability for this toxin to accumulate in shellfish rapidly, precautionary closures are being used between sampling events to ensure harvested shellfish are safe for consumption and to avoid recalls of product. At least two rounds of shellfish sampling are occurring weekly in the affected areas. Harvesters should pay close attention to biotoxin closure notices to be sure their area is open. Closures, re-openings and informational bulletins are sent out via email and we encourage interested parties to subscribe to the Public Health and Safety notices to get the latest information.

Marine Patrol

Marine Patrol is currently working with Farrin Boat Shop in Bristol to build a 42-foot Calvin Beal Patrol Vessel that will replace the Patrol Vessel Monitor which burned earlier this year. The new Patrol Vessel will be stationed in Boothbay Harbor once completed.

Marine Patrol completed a second round of new-hire candidate interviews recently and three candidates have been selected to move on to the physical fitness test followed by a Chiefs interview. Officers in Sections Two and Three continue to focus extra effort in the Vinalhaven area following a trap molesting complaint with hundreds of traps having already been reported cut off. The incident made land-fall last week with a reported intentional vehicle crash between the two parties resulting in an assault charge and a felon in possession of a firearm.

Patrol has also been working a trap molesting complaint on Matinicus Island where one fisherman has reported losing in excess of 400 traps.

Policy and Management Bureau

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission had their annual meeting the week of October 19. At the meeting, the Lobster Board reviewed and approved the 2020 Lobster Stock Assessment which continues to show positive biomass trends for the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank stock. The Atlantic Menhaden Board set the 2021 and 2022 menhaden Total Allowable Catch (TAC) at 194,400 metric tons. The Striped Bass Board also began work on a public scoping document for Amendment 7, which is considering a number of changes.

The New England Fishery Management Council met September 28-October 1. The Council took final action on Scallop Amendment 21, creating an 800,000-pound set aside for the Northern Gulf of Maine (NGOM) federal scallop fishery. This means that the first 800,000 pounds of NGOM quota will be allocated to LAGC Category A and B permit holders fishing in NGOM; quota above 800,000 pounds will be split across all fishery components. The Council also took final action on Groundfish Amendment 23 which focused on observer coverage in the commercial fishery. The Council voted for an observer coverage target of 100% as long as there are federal funds to reimburse industry. In the absence of federal funding, the minimum observer coverage rate was set at 40%.

CARES Act applications have been coming in and we are preparing for the next phase, which is to work with ASFMC to get the checks written and sent. My hope is that the money arrives to you in time for the holidays and provides some relief at the end of this difficult year. The Maine Seafood Branding and Promotion Initiative, funded by a small portion of the CARES Act money, will soon launch a new website and publicity strategy with the goal of helping this industry adapt to the changing marketplace and consumer trends resulting from COVID-19.

I hope you find these updates worthwhile. I'll send another update as we near the end of the year. In the meantime, I hope you all stay safe and healthy as we near the end of a turbulent 2020.