Lobster Zone D recently elected to adopt a five to one ratio for new licenses, meaning that five fishermen will have to retire before another license is issued to the next candidate on a waiting list. The idea is to reduce the number of lobstermen working in this lucrative area. Zone D had 1,253 licensed commercial lobstermen in 2001, and 1,215 in 2002.

Situated in the Midcoast, Zone D includes the western part of Penobscot Bay. This region has consistently been the most productive area of the Maine coast, with Knox County leading the state’s counties in total lobster landings. Zone D also has the largest percentage of lobster licenses issued of all the zones. Maine has seven lobster zones, and at this time all the zones have considered limited entry. The problem of too many fishermen is generally thought to be most significant in the southwestern part of the state, but it is serious issue all along the coast.

Each zone’s councils were allowed to set entry restrictions by an act of the legislature in 1999, in an innovative and nationally unique move to transfer some rulemaking authority to the fishermen themselves.

Zone D was the first to vote for limited entry, but ended up passing a 1:1 ratio two years ago. The action was a compromise at the time, and left many lobstermen unsatisfied, but once it was in place the Zone Council was required by law to wait 24 months before looking at the question again. The new ratio is not intended to result in an eventual 80 percent reduction, but rather to bring the numbers of permits down to a sustainable level, which would then be maintained.

The Zone D Council, comprised of area lobstermen elected by their fellow fishermen, first requested that the Department of Marine Resources Commissioner close the zone to new license requests, and followed up with a survey to all Zone D lobstermen soliciting input as to the desired entry-exit ratio. A ratio of 5:1 was selected by 32 percent of respondents, with 21 percent supporting 3:1, and 19 percent supporting 1:1.

The selection of the ratio remains very controversial, with many fishermen asking what will happen to the younger fishermen just trying to start out, or how small towns or islands with smaller populations of fishermen will fare under the new system. Some fishermen fear that the system will lead to only relatively large and full-time boats working the fishery, and an erosion of the numbers of traditional small-boat operators.