Governor Janet Mills announced Thursday that her administration will reimburse license and tag fees to commercial fishers and aquaculturists in a bid to provide some relief from soaring inflation and record fuel prices.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources will use $8.3 million in federal funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act to reimburse the costs of commercial fishing licenses, as well as associated fees, such as the initial fee for tags required for each lobster trap.
“Maine’s commercial fishing and seafood industry is a critical cornerstone of our economy, and it is facing unprecedented cost increases,” Mills said in a statement announcing the refunds. “It puts money back in the pockets of Maine fishermen, aquaculturists and traders to help offset growing business expenses, hoping to bring them a little relief.”
“I know rising fuel costs and other expenses have been a challenge for many fishing operations,” Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in a notice to commercial license holders. “I hope this license fee reimbursement program will provide some relief that will help offset other business expenses.”
To be eligible for the refund, the license must be a renewal of a commercial license held in 2021 and the license holder must have turned 18 or older in January 2022. The ministry is also extending the refund offer to resellers and processors, and will waive and refund the 2022 Commercial Aquaculture Lease Fee through a separate process.
Under the reimbursement program, a lobster with a Class III license and 800 traps, the maximum number allowed, would receive $1,488 from the state. A Class II license holder with 800 traps would receive $1,203. A Zone 2 sea urchin fisherman would be reimbursed the license fee of $312, a scallop dragger would be reimbursed $243 and an aquaculture license holder would be reimbursed $133. Other license costs can be found on the license applications listed on the Department of Marine Resources website.
“I think everyone in the industry appreciates the opportunity to have that extra bit of cash at a time when the season is just getting started,” said Dustin Delano, a Friendship lobster who serves as vice president. of the Maine Lobsterman’s Association. He said this year’s spending is “insane”.
“Obviously the fuel is about double, the bait is almost double,” he said. “Everything you buy is like this – rope, all you need is higher and lobster is lower than last year. Lobster doesn’t seem to be going up with inflation, so it’s going to be tricky. »
With increased fuel, bait and other expenses, he calculated that he was spending over $1,000 more per six-day work week. He said he just bought 100 new traps that cost him $130 each, which is $40 more than he paid per trap last year. Meanwhile, he’s getting $5 a pound of lobster on the dock, down from record prices last year, when Maine lobsters landed $725 million worth of lobster.
“I’m not trying to cry poverty; last year was a great year,” Delano said, “but a great year won’t make up for a really bad year.
CREW PAY COULD TAKE A HIT
As a Class III lobster boat, Delano can have up to four unlicensed crew members. (Class II license holders can have one.) He pays his crew a percentage of the earnings he calculates “over the top” before subtracting expenses. Many captains do it this way, but Delano predicts that could be a thing of the past if expenses continue to rise.
Delano also holds a menhaden license and dealer license for buying and selling bait, and between those and his lobster license and tags, he expects to receive a few thousand dollars from the state. . He said he planned to donate the money to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association legal defense fund, and he heard other lobster fishermen would do the same. Maine’s lobster industry is challenging upcoming regulations to protect endangered right whales and defending itself against lawsuits seeking to shut down the fishery to prevent whale entanglements in fishing gear. The Maine lobster industry says it is not responsible for right whale injuries and deaths.
“From my perspective, it’s money I’ve already spent, and we really need every penny we can get to help us in our legal fight,” he said.
The state will process refund payments quarterly through the end of 2022. It is currently processing refunds for 2022 licenses sold between November 15 and March 31. A letter has been sent to those who will receive refunds in this first round. Then the department will process refunds for licenses sold between April 1 and June 30. Dealers will be reimbursed after the end of the 2022 dealer license year on March 31, 2023.
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