Topic Area: Lobster Co-management Law
Geographic Area: Maine, United States
Focal Question: How successful has the introduction of the Co-management law been?
(1) Acheson, James M., Stockwell, Terry and Wilson, James A. “Evolution of the Maine Lobster Co-management Law.” Maine Policy Review. Fall 2000, pp. 52-62.
(2) Acheson, James M. and Taylor, Laura. “The Anatomy of the Maine Lobster Co-management Law.” Society and Natural Resources. 2001, pp. 425-441.
(3) Houtman, Nick. “Co-management May Point Way to Resource Conservation.” Northeast Sea Grant. June 2000.
(4) Taylor, Laura. “From Theory to Practice: Maine’s New Approach to Lobster Management.” Maine Department of Marine Resources. 1998.
Reviewer: J. Michael Sesko, Colby College ‘02
The Maine Lobster industry is one of the most successful fisheries in the world. It has had a stable catch since 1947, with catches in excess of forty-seven million pounds in the last few years (Acheson, 2001). Much of the success is due to effective management policies such as the minimum size law, the oversize measure, and the V-notch program. Since 1948, fishermen have voluntarily put notches in the tails of egg-bearing females; it is illegal to possess lobsters carrying the notch (Taylor, 1998). Yet many lobstermen in the industry felt that this was not enough to conserve the resource.
In the Spring of 1995, the Maine Legislature enacted a co-management law. The new law shares responsibility between the government and the fishermen in an effort to conserve resources, a highly controversial concept due to the increase in power of the fishermen themselves. Supporters feel that enforcement costs will be reduced because the fishermen will be involved in crafting the rules that they will be asked to follow. The presumption is that rules viewed as reasonable will be easier to enforce. Skeptics are concerned that fishermen lack the necessary incentive to pass rules that constrain their private gains in order to improve the fishery as a whole.
Under the new law, the Department of Marine Resources has established seven management zones. In each of these zones, and elected council of fishermen determines the maximum number of traps each license holder is permitted to fish, the number of traps that may be fished on a single line, and the time of day when fishing is allowed. Due to concerns of congested fishing areas, an additional power was granted four years later; the fishermen were given the power to recommend the maximum number of fishermen in their zone. If the regulations are approved by a two-thirds vote within the council, the Department of Marine Resources determines if it will be passed. As of yet, the co-management law has achieved great success when compared to previous lobster legislation. The zones have all passed trap limits, and four have recommended limited entry regulations (Houtman, 2000). Yet like most laws, it is not without its problems.
The first problem arose from the definition of the trap limits. Setting a uniform trap limit means that full-time fishermen whose livelihood relies on harvesting lobster are forced to reduce their number of traps, while part-time fishermen have the ability to increase their number of traps. This issue has sparked much debate on the fairness of the limit. Not only were new fishermen allowed to enter the market, but they were also allowed to increase their share of the market without compensating full-time fishermen. As a result, the Department of Marine Resources established a new law based on limited entry. Initially, a tag freeze was issued where fishermen under 800 traps could only purchase 100 more traps whereas fishermen over 800 traps could purchase no more traps. Further, in 1999, the zone councils were allowed to establish an allowance ratio of new fishermen based on the number of licenses retired. For example, certain zones dictated a ratio of 2-1 such that a new license could be issued only after two licenses were retired. Four zones have passed limited entry legislation while the others are still working on it. Although full-time fishermen are still limited in their trap limits, the new laws served to effectively retard the over-exploitation of new part-time fishermen (Acheson, 2000).
The next problem involved the setting of the zone boundaries. Logically, the enactment of boundaries cannot accommodate everyone. All boundaries will inevitably separate some fishermen from their traditional grounds. As a result, many fishermen were disturbed that they were being constrained under the new law. In an effort to appease the situation, the Department of Marine Resources established what is known as the 49%/51% amendment. This states that fishermen from one zone can fish another zone provided they do not put more than 49% of their gear in the other zone. They are also required to abide by the rules of the zones they are fishing in. Effectively, this allowed for more flexibility in the placement of traps. While much of the problem was resolved, some fishermen continue to dispute the fairness of the boundary zones (Acheson, 2001).
Despite the presence of minor biases within the system, notably with part-time fishermen and the drawing of boundary lines, the co-management law has achieved great success since its passage in 1995. Since then, all seven zones have established trap limits, and four zones have established limited entry guidelines. Meanwhile, the fishery maintains a steady population of lobsters while boasting record number catches. The conservation of the lobster population is much improved with the introduction of trap limits and limited entry. Moreover, the new law has allowed the fishermen to play a major role in making their own decisions. Essentially, the success and future of the business is now in the hands of the fishermen themselves.