It’s Time for the Lobster Monopoly to End: Maine Needs to Grow Up Like Its Lobsters

Article By: Leslie M. MacRae, JNREL Vol. 18, No. 2

Abstract By: Brandon Wells, Staff Member

Want to go to Maine and catch your own lobster? Well you may find yourself in a lot of trouble. Along with other types of regulation such as limiting quotas, equipment regulation, and seasonal restrictions, Maine has a system of regulation based on state citizenship. In effect, this means that unless you have been a resident of Maine for at least a couple years or so, and in some cases have participated in a type of lobster apprenticeship, you can forget about commercially fishing for lobster legally. While many of the types of regulations used by Maine on its lobster industry are legal and in many cases promote economic well being, regulations based on durational residency requirements are arguably unconstitutional.

Some earlier cases with facts very similar to the issue in Maine have been decided based on the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution. In the earlier case, Hicklin v. Orbeck, 437 U.S. 518 (1978), the court fashioned a two-part test to determine unconstitutionality. The first part of the test was that the state had to demonstrate that non-residents constituted a particular "source of evil." The second part of the test stated that the discrimination had to have a "substantial relationship" to the problem. Being able to prove that non-residents are sources of evil will be hard for Maine, or any other state to do, although it has happened in some cases. See State v. Kemp, 44 N.W. 2d 214 (S.D. 1950).

Over thirty years ago, Maine had implemented a durational residency requirement much like the one they have today. In 1974, the case of Massey v. Appolonio held that the residency requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause. Massey v. Appolonio, 387 F. Supp. 373, (D. Me. 1974). The only problem with the court's decision was that it made clear that it was only discussing the constitutionality of the residency requirement (which was three years at the time) and not whether Maine was able to limit fishing to Maine residents only. In a future suit based on these unresolved matters, it seems likely that Maine will be in a very precarious position, and may very well lose again.

It is anticipated that Maine will argue that nonresidents are a "source of evil" when it comes to protecting their local commercial lobster industry. Maine may say that they are protecting their culture, but it is extremely hard to see how the residency requirements would solve this problem. Even so, there are many other ways to protect this perceived harm, such as regulations based on the type and size of boat.

Maine may additionally argue that non- residential lobstermen will destroy the state's conservation efforts. However, non-residents will be subject to the same regulations and laws as Maine lobstermen. Another potential argument is that lobster is the state's own unique resource. Nevertheless, there are a number of facts to rebut Maine's argument, as lobsters are mobile and are found in many spots far south of Maine on the east coast. Also, the Court has all but out right rejected the idea of ownership over living natural resources.

Along with this shift in thinking by the Court, along with the rigid tests of the Privileges and Immunities Clause and the case law that follows it, Maine will have a very difficult time holding its durational residency requirement up to constitutional muster. Maine has the ability and the knowledge to maintain its beautiful industry and resources without resorting to such illegal statutes and manners. Putting to work its legal and constitutional controls over lobster fishing will see to it that Maine's foothold in the commercial lobster industry continues for many years to come.