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Tensions Ease in Maine Elver License Dispute with Passamaquoddy Tribe
04/03/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Tensions appear to have eased, at least for the moment, in the ongoing dispute between the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the state over enforcement of elver fishing regulations in the short, lucrative season that began nearly two weeks ago. Tribal leaders met at the State House this morning with Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher and the co-chairs of the Marine Resources Committee. And as Susan Sharon reports, they say they made progress in resolving their differences.

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After meeting for more than an hour in the Senate president's office, Commissoner Keliher and tribal leaders emerged with a more positive outlook about moving forward to resolve a potentially volatile situation.

Over the past week the tribe has maintained that it does not recognize state laws governing elver fishing. And the state has accused the tribe of jeopardizing the elver fishery by issuing more than twice as many licenses as it has been permitted.

"We had a very positive conversation with the Passamaquoddies," Keliher says. "We've found some common ground, that we're going to continue to work on this issue to try to find resolution over the coming days."

Neither Keliher nor members of the tribe would elaborate on what common ground was found. But their agreement to work together is a long way from where the two sides found themselves on Sunday night on a river in Pembroke. That's when Keliher, accompanied by about 20 armed police officers, tried to inspect the gear and elver fishing licenses of several tribal members.

When several dozen more tribal members appeared on the scene, police backed away. No citations were made at the time. But the showdown later prompted Gov. Paul LePage to make a call to tribal leaders and threaten to close down the fishery unless they adhere to state law.

"You know, we don't have agreement with the state simply because the state has a law on the books and we have a management plan which we are adhering to," says Fred Moore, the author of the Passamaquoddies' fisheries management plan, which relies on a total allowable catch of 3,600 pounds of elvers, as opposed to the limited entry licensing system imposed by the state.

The tribe maintains that its approach is more protective of the resource, which is highly coveted since elvers can fetch as much as $2,000 a pound.

"Obviously they are completely different approaches to management," Moore says. "The state looks at access to commercial fisheries or marine resources as a privilege, whereas we look at access as an inherent right. And the challenge is to reconcile those differences, to come to some common ground that works for everybody."

Moore says the tribe is committed to working toward a solution, and has agreed to communicate daily and meet regularly with the commissioner. The tribe has also agreed to support a bill that calls for tougher penalties for violating elver fishing regulations.


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