February 13

Maine regulators’ deal with native tribes over elver fishery collapses at key stage

The state says constitutional concerns prevent it from supporting a tribal accord crucial to its management plan.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

A man holds elvers, young translucent eels, in Portland.

2012 Associated Press File Photo/ Robert F. Bukaty

That year’s haul of about 19,000 pounds was worth nearly $40 million. Some fishermen earned more than $100,000 during the 76-day season. Landings declined slightly in 2013, to a total of 18,253 pounds with a value of nearly $33 million.

The now-dissolved agreement between the state and the tribes would have allowed the Passamaquoddies to catch as many elvers, collectively, as they did last year, 1,650 pounds. Three other tribes would have increased quotas, ranging from eight pounds to nearly 160 pounds.

Several members of the Marine Resources Committee said the tribal quota would be unfair to non-tribal fishermen.

Keliher said last year’s catch by the Passamaquoddies included landings that may have been illegal because the fishermen may have had one of the 375 licenses not approved by the state.

“I have a real problem with pushing (the reduced statewide) quota on the backs of the rest of the fishermen,” said Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel. “We wouldn’t even be here if some 400 licenses weren’t issued illegally.”

Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle, agreed, saying, “I don’t see how we can justify having non-tribal fishermen carrying the weight for the entire reduction.”

TRIBES OBJECT TO COURT OPTION

The tentative agreement would have allowed the Passamaquoddy Tribe to issue an unlimited number of licenses while adhering to the state’s swipe card system. There would be no individual catch limit until the tribal fishermen collectively reached 80 percent of their total quota.

Keliher said he negotiated the tribal quota hoping to avoid conflicts on Maine’s riverbanks. After Wednesday’s deal collapsed, he said the tribes should take the state to court to resolve the issue.

Madonna Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy tribal representative to the Legislature, said lawmakers could ask the courts to determine whether the tribal agreement was constitutional.

Soctomah objected to lawmakers’ move to let the tribes settle their respective catch quotas among themselves.

“State and federal governments have been doing that to the tribes for years,” she said. “They’ve thrown us into one bowl and made us fight with ourselves.”

It will take two-thirds majority votes in the House and Senate to approve the LePage administration’s bill as emergency legislation. If it fails, Keliher and his agency will use emergency authority to open a derby-style season that will end as soon as the catch hits the 11,750-pound statewide limit. Keliher said such a season could increase the possibility of conflict on Maine’s rivers.

Also, the migration of eels means that fishermen in southern and midcoast regions could hit the harvest limit before fishermen in Hancock and Washington County ever set their nets.

Keliher said the state did not have accurate eel migration data that would allow it to manage a derby season based on different river systems.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

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