AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- Lobstermen wearing bright red shirts proclaiming their solidarity came to the State House on Wednesday to lobby against a proposal to eliminate penalties for Maine-based groundfishing boats that catch lobsters in federally regulated waters.
More than 40 members of the Maine Lobstermen's Union left their boats early so they could tell lawmakers the bill would legalize lobster dragging in Maine and loosen regulations that protect the resource of lobster.
"These draggers are destroying them," Rocky Alley, of Jonesport, said during a rally. "We've got to stop it right here if we can."
Another lobsterman, Lee Osgood, of Vinalhaven, called defeat of the bill "a no-brainer."
"Why ruin a good money-making industry?" Osgood said. "It just boggles my mind."
In a split vote, the Legislature's Marine Resources Committee last month endorsed the bill, which would allow Maine-based boats to keep lobsters they catch in the federal zones as long as they don't land them in Maine. Fishermen now routinely keep the lobster by-catch and sell it in Massachusetts, but they face possible $50,000 fines if Maine officials catch them with lobsters in federal waters. Bill supporters say it would encourage fishermen to keep their boats in Portland.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the bill is a "lifeline" to lobstermen who wish to stay in Maine. The Portland Fish Exchange, which also favors passage of the bill, said it would maintain the status quo for Maine fishermen who depend on income gained from lobster by-catch sold in Massachusetts.
The state Department of Marine Resources also supports the bill.
The bill is expected to be debated within the next few days.