Lobstermen in Maine must place one of these tags on each of the traps they use. They buy the tag from the state, which contains their fishing license number and individual numbers for each trap. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

The cost of lobstering in Maine will get a little more expensive this year with the price of mandated identification tags for traps increasing by 50 percent.

The Department of Marine Resources has raised the cost from 50 cents to 75 cents per tag for the 2022 season. Trap tags are used as an enforcement tool and show the license number and area that a lobsterman is allowed to fish in. They are affixed to every lobster trap and have to be swapped out annually.

While it’s the first time in more than a decade that the price has gone up, it’s the latest rising cost for lobstermen, who also face higher fuel and bait prices. The new price means that lobstermen fishing with 800 traps, the state limit, will go from spending $400 for the annual tags to $600.

“Increasing tag fees is not something I take lightly, and is something I view as a solution of last resort,” Patrick Keliher, the head of the DMR, wrote to lobster license holders in November.

The last price increase was in 2009. State officials said they’ve avoided price hikes for the last few years, but they couldn’t hold off any longer as the cost of acquiring the tags from manufacturers has gone up exponentially — as much as 400 percent in 2018 alone. The cost to DMR is now almost 19 cents a tag, up from 12 cents a tag last year. In 2017, it cost less than a penny per tag.

“[Manufacturers] have been experiencing the same problems with the cost of materials that everybody else has,” said Deirdre Gilbert, the director of marine policy at DMR, at a lobster zone council meeting this week.

The price hike will also help DMR balance its Lobster Management Fund that was headed towards a shortfall. The money lobstermen pay the state for the tags goes to the fund, which covers, at least in part, 19 positions at the department that work in everything from lobster monitoring and research to Marine Patrol. That fund was projected to go into deficit this year by about $500,000 if the price was not changed. The department considered a lower tag increase to 65 cents per tag, but that only delayed going into the red for a year.

To try and save money, DMR looked at other types of tag systems and even possibly using multi-year tags, but none seemed to work.

“There was nothing that we could find that was cheaper and provided the same enforcement benefits that the existing tag system does,” Gilbert said.

To offset the cost to fishermen, DMR has proposed using federal relief money to reimburse lobstermen for this year’s license and trap tag fees, so the increase would not really be felt until 2023.

The dozens of lobstermen at the zone council meeting seemed to understand the dilemma, but it is another added cost while they are facing increased regulations and potential reductions on the industry to try and protect right whales.

“It’s just one more thing,” said David Horner, a Southwest Harbor lobsterman.  

While the state raises the cost of the tags, there is a proposal to divert some of the money to help fight ongoing legal battles. Winter Harbor lobsterman and Republican state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham is proposing to set aside 20 cents from each trap tag sale and money from license surcharges for a legal defense fund for the fishery.

“I just want to use some of the money we’re already taking out of our own pockets,” he said.

DMR spokesperson Jeff Nichols said that the department would share its position on Faulkingham’s proposal at the public hearing scheduled next week.