State Rep. Abden Simmons, R-Waldoboro, proposed the institution of an elver lottery during a meeting with the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association at the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum.
Simmons has submitted a bill to the Legislature to cap the number of license holders in the fishery and create a lottery for harvesters who did not hold licenses previously. Under the existing system, only current license holders are eligible to purchase a license in subsequent years.
Simmons said the number of licenses issued in the state has been fluid in the past, with 432 licenses in 2013 and only 419 last year. The bill is an effort to sustain a license number as the fishery moves forward.
According to the bill summary, it would establish the number of elver licenses issued each year at 425, not including licenses issued to Native American tribes.
Simmons said that if the bill passes the lottery would start in 2018.
The bill would establish a minimum allocation of elver quota to each license holder of 4 pounds, unless the amount causes Maine to exceed its overall annual quota set by the Atlantic States Marines Fisheries Commission.
According to Maine Department of Marine Resources spokesman Jeff Nichols, a quota system was instituted in 2014.
He said under the existing quota system, each harvester is allocated an individual fishing quota, established the first year of the quota system.
Nichols said that currently, for non-tribal licenses, the state may only issue a license to a person that held a license in the prior calendar year.
He said there were 419 state license holders in 2016, so that is the current number of people eligible to buy licenses in 2017.
Nichols said if a lottery was adopted for the elver fishery, it would not change the amount of quota available to the state.
Simmons said that under the bill, new entries would be limited to 4 pounds, but as harvesters leave the fishery, more quota will open up.
“Every year, as people go out, new entries will gain quota,” Simmons said.
Simmons said he felt compelled to submit a bill on the issue, noting the DMR could have submitted a bill of its own with a higher cap.
“We had to sustain a number. The DMR was going to put a bill in and we didn’t know what it was going to look like,” Simmons said.
He said plans are for there to be a $35 fee charged to those wishing to enter the lottery with $25 going to fund an elver life-cycle study and $10 to cover administrative costs.
Simmons said administrative costs may end up being cheaper than first estimated and there had been some pushback on the lottery fee.
“The committee didn’t feel like the general public should have to pay for the lottery, but it’s a license of a lifetime,” Simmons said.
The bill, L.D. 286, “An act to promote and encourage the sustainability of the elver fishery,” was presented to the Legislature by Simmons. Co-sponsors include state Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden.
Another provision of the bill directs the DMR to adopt rules providing a method for the redistribution of quotas allocated to deceased license holders or license holders who for another reason will not harvest their quotas.
Simmons said the bill was tabled after a work session in front of the Marine Resources Committee on Wednesday, March 8.
He said the DMR has also drafted a bill on the issue and work on his bill has been tabled until the DMR presents its bill.
Simmons said the bills are similar and there is the potential for the two bills to be combined to some extent.
He said the major differences between the two are that the DMR’s draft has a provision covering charges for swipe cards used by elver harvesters to track their catches, which are currently free, and a “one in one out” policy for harvesters looking to enter the fishery.
According to data from the DMR, the state’s elver fishery was valued at $13.4 million in 2016. It was the state’s fourth most valuable fishery behind lobsters, herring, and soft-shell clams. The price per pound for the fishery was $1,430.51.
The volume of Maine elvers harvested in 2016 was 9,400 pounds, near the catch limit for the state, which was 9,688 pounds.