The First 2021 DMR Update from Commissioner Keliher

I hope the new year is getting off to a good start for you. Here is the first DMR update for 2021, and as you can see, it's already shaping up to be a busy one.

Policy and Management Bureau

As many of you know, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently released several important documents regarding right whales. They include: 1) the proposed rule to modify the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan; 2) a draft Biological Opinion; and 3) and a vessel speed rule report. The deadline to submit public comment on these documents is March 1st, February 19th, and March 5th, respectively. DMR is working hard to assess the information in these documents and craft public comments. I strongly encourage anyone interested in Maines lobster industry to participate in the Public Hearings on the proposed rule, and to make sure your voice is heard by submitting comments. We will be sending out more information to the impacted industries.

The New England Fishery Management Council met in late January and voted to finalize a redfish universal exemption for sectors in the groundfish fishery. The new exemption area is based on an industry proposal which considers important areas of redfish catch as well as bycatch of other species. The exemption also implements additional accountability measures for sectors which participate in the redfish exemption. The Council also recommended 2021 recreational measures for Gulf of Maine cod and haddock to NOAA Fisheries. The recommendation is to continue use of the 2020 management measures, which include a slightly longer Gulf of Maine cod season for the party/charter fleet in light of Covid-19 economic impacts. Finally, the Council set FY2021 specifications for the federal scallop fishery; this includes a TAC of 175,000 for the Northern Gulf of Maine, of which 122,500 will be allocated to limited access general category permits.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met the week of February 1st. The Lobster Board received a presentation from NOAA regarding the right whale proposed rule and draft Biological Opinion. Following a series of questions, the Board voted to submit public comments on both documents focusing on areas such as conservation equivalency, enforcement, and the impact of Canadas action on US fisheries. The Board also discussed next steps following results of the 2020 Benchmark Stock Assessment and voted to re-initiate work on an addendum to the Fishery Management Plan designed to improve stock resiliency.

The Menhaden Board has also started preliminary discussions about the reallocation for this important bait source and forage fish. We will have more information on this in the coming months, but we are optimistic that the Board will start an amendment or an addendum that addresses state by state quotas.

At the Striped Bass Board meeting, Maine and Massachusetts presented a joint proposal to study the baited tube rig fishery. The Board voted to approve the proposal, granting a circle hook exemption to the baited tube rig fishery for the duration of the study (2021-2022). DMR will be providing more information in the coming weeks regarding 2021 measures and how to participate in the tub rig study.

Science Bureau

DMR has developed a Draft Management Plan Amendment for the Kennebec River that revises the goals, objectives, and recommended actions for restoring the Kennebec River above Waterville. The goals of the plan are to restore millions of sea-run fish such as river herring, shad, and eels to historic habitats and create the conditions that Atlantic salmon recovery could be possible. DMR has a two-month public comment period ending February 26th. DMR had scheduled a public hearing on February 16th but it was cancelled due to weather. DMR will send a follow up email to all individuals who had registered for the hearing with the information on a new date and time, and it will be posted to DMR's website. For more information visit https://www.maine.gov/dmr/laws-regulations/proposed-rulemaking.html

DMR is looking for industry participants for both the Regional Ventless Lobster Trap program and a National Sea Grant funded Pilot Lobster Larvae Survey. DMR in cooperation with the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, is seeking three industry participants for the Regional Ventless Trap Program through a competitive bid process. More information on the Program and the application process are available on the DMR website. The Atlantic Offshore Lobstermens Association (AOLA) and DMR are looking for two boats to support research to determine the distribution and abundance of lobster larvae out to 25 miles. More information on this research project and the bid process can be found on the DMR website. Requests for Proposals on each project can be found at https://www.maine.gov/dmr/about/rfps.html .

Scallop dredge surveys were conducted in cooperation with the commercial fishing industry in the Isle au Haut Bay rotational management area and throughout Cobscook Bay over the past month. Conservation closures were implemented in Roque Island Harbor and Kennebec River, Harrington and Pleasant Rivers, the Fox Islands Thorofare, Casco Passage, and western Toothacher Bay in January. Additional conservation closures in Cobscook, Whiting and Dennys Bays, Upper Frenchman Bay, Damariscotta River and western Casco Bay along with expanding existing closures in Englishman Bay and Addison rotational areas were also added in February.

Marine Patrol

Marine Patrol recently made offers of employment to two new officers. Officers Kaelyn Kuni and Lexis Elston will begin law enforcement certification training on Tuesday February 16th and once certified both will begin patrol assignments in Eastern Washington County.

Matt Wyman has been promoted to Sergeant of the Maine Marine Patrol's Section 3, which includes the stretch of coast from Waldoboro to Belfast. Wyman has served in acting capacity as sergeant in Section 3 for the past five months.

Maine Marine Patrol Sergeant Wesley Dean has received the prestigious North East Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs Association (NECLECA) Officer of the Year Award for 2020.

Public Health Bureau

The Shellfish Advisory Council (ShAC) met remotely on February 4th and discussed topics ranging from measuring hard clams and municipal program standards to best conservation activities, revising shellfish closure notices and proposed rulemaking. ShAC meetings are held quarterly and the members of the council, who include harvesters, dealers and municipal officials, advise the Department on topics and bring forward issues of importance to the bivalve shellfish industry. If you would like to receive announcements for future ShAC meetings please sign up to the Public Health and Safety list on the DMR website: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/MEDMR/subscriber/new

Another good source of information on issues concerning the bivalve shellfish industry is the biannual newsletter published on the DMR website in January and July. The recent issue was posted last month and covers biotoxin testing, examples of the shellfish closure notice revision project and the prevalence of hermit crabs in some coastal waters. You can find the current and past newsletters here: https://www.maine.gov/dmr/shellfish-sanitation-management/newsletters/index.html

Lets hope we see some positive changes to this pandemic, and we can get back to in-person meetings later in 2021. I know I personally benefit from our meetings and I always appreciate the small chats as meetings break up and we head to the parking lot. The conversations I have with members of all the industries we serve are incredibly valuable. While webinars have allowed us to keep some communications going it is sometimes difficult to get the input that is really needed. I am personally troubled by the fact NOAA will not be able to hold face to face meetings on the whale rule and the Bi-Op. This is the issue that keeps me up at night and I hope every industry member stands up and speaks their minds and shares how this can and will impact you.

Thank you and be safe out there.

Pat