- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A Maine legislative committee recommended Wednesday that the state not approve a request from a group of American Indian tribes for shared management of commercial fish species.

Representatives for the tribes, led by sponsor and Passamaquoddy Tribe legislative Rep. Matthew Dana, have said their bill would allow state regulators to enter into a “memorandum of agreement” about marine resources with four tribes. The request stems in part from a conflict the tribes and state regulators had last year about fishing for baby eels, which are among the most lucrative marine species in the state.

The Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources voted 9-2 against passage of the bill. Some members of the committee said they didn’t think a law to bring together the tribes and state regulators was necessary because the two sides could do so without one.

“I don’t see how this takes us anyplace,” Rep. Jeffrey K. Pierce (R-Dresden) said. “Right now, the state of Maine can enter into a memorandum of agreement at any time.”

The bill can still go to the full state Legislature because the vote was not unanimous. Dana said he will continue to argue in favor of the bill, though prospects for passage are dimmer.

“The message today was this can already happen,” Dana said. “Hopefully from here on forward there will be open lines of communication.”

State Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher has said he opposes the proposal. The Passamaquoddies and state regulators clashed last year about a state requirement that tribal fishermen of elvers, or baby eels, be subject to individual quotas. The tribe eventually agreed.

The two sides ran afoul of each other again last week when regulators issued emergency restrictions on certain kinds of elver fishing nets because of state concerns of overfishing by Passamaquoddy tribe members. Tribal leaders said on Tuesday they will keep allowing members to use the nets.

Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) was one of two committee members to vote against the motion to disapprove of the bill. However, he said he opposes the bill, and voted no so the tribe will have a chance to state its case before the full Legislature.

“If it comes up that it’s impossible to do without a law, we’ll reconsider that,” he said.

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