ELLSWORTH — Maine lobstermen are running out of time to preserve their right to set their gear in federal waters beyond the three-mile limit.
In June, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a final rule establishing a limited entry program for the lobster fishery in the federal waters of the Gulf of Maine out to about 50 miles offshore known as Lobster Conservation Area 1. Fishermen who now hold federal permits to fish for lobster in Area 1 have until Thursday, Nov. 1, to submit an application to renew their federal lobster licenses. Fishermen who don’t file on time won’t be allowed to fish in federal waters after April 30 of next year.
In 2009, NMFS gave notice that it might limit issuance of federal lobster permits to those fishermen who held trap tags for the federal fishery between 2004 and 2008. Those restrictions became final in June.
The federal rule implements a 2008 recommendation of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) aimed at keeping fishing in Area 1 at or below 2008 levels. Although the offshore lobster resource appears to be plentiful, regulators do not want to see an increase in the number of traps set in offshore waters. Stretching from Cape Cod to the Canadian boundary, Area 1 includes some of the richest lobster fishing grounds in New England.