Second Lobster Leadership Institute Launched in February

First published in Landings, March, 2017

It was a brilliant day in early February when the participants in the second Lobster Leadership Institute gathered at Point Lookout in Northport. The fourteen men and women began their two-day exploration of lobster science, management, business and marketing with a welcome by MLA executive director Patrice McCarron. “You have made significant investments in your lobster business. You are the future of this industry. The leadership program is about giving you the tools you need to guide this industry into the future,” said McCarron.

The Lobster Leadership Institute began in 2014 as an effort to give younger lobstermen and women the tools they would need to become advocates for their fishery at the state, local and regional levels. The average age of a Maine lobsterman is 50-plus,” said MLA president David Cousens. “My generation is going to step down at some point. We need these younger people to take our places.

All lobstermen know certain things: how to fish, when to fish, how to maintain their boats and other practical matters. What many lobstermen don’t know are the complex, inter-related elements that are part of the management and sale of those lobsters they catch. Add to that complexity the complications of a rapidly-changing Gulf of Maine. “It’s a multifaceted fishery and the more you know, the better positioned you will be for the future,” Cousens continued.

Cody Stewart, left, and Elliott Nevells, right.
M. Waterman photo..

“I came because my older brother encouraged me to,” said Peter Philbrook, 18, whose brother Abe took part in the first Institute. “Plus I’ve been influenced by the co-op [Cranberry Island Co-op, on Islesford where Philbrook lobsters]. They’ve been really active in marketing the lobsters and I wanted to know more about that.”

The participants first heard from Department of Marine Resources (DMR) resource coordinator Sarah Cotnoir on the historical and current management structure for lobster in the Gulf of Maine. She highlighted the migration of lobster management authority from the New England Fisheries Management Council to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in the mid 1990s, a process in which MLA leaders were instrumental. Cotnoir also spoke about the workings of the Maine Legislature, the DMR rulemaking process and the inception of the Lobster Zone Councils in 1996, when the DMR passed limited authority over lobster fishing to the seven councils.

“I want to learn more about the fishery management aspect,” explained Jordan Drouin of Cutler. “I particularly want to know about the Canadian side of things. We [Zone A] are so close to them.”

Kathleen Reardon, DMR’s lobster biologist, followed with a summary of DMR’s many monitoring and sampling programs related to lobster. The department monitors lobsters through most of its life stages so if there’s a problem, it should show up in multiple surveys. The DMR monitors baby lobsters through the lobster settlement survey, juvenile lobsters through the ventless trap survey and spring and fall inshore trawls surveys, and the commercial catch through the state’s comprehensive at-sea sampling program.

The two-day event was packed with lobster industry information. MLA photo.

The settlement index has shown a decline over the past few years, but these data are difficult to interpret. “It could mean that there is a problem or it could mean that lobsters are now settling in deeper waters”, explained Reardon. There is some work underway to look at settlement offshore. And we haven’t seen these signs of decline in our other surveys. The various sampling programs reinforce one another, Reardon said.

The lobstermen also heard from Rick Wahle, research professor at the University of Maine, who began the lobster settlement index in Maine in 1989. Wahle’s research focuses on the effects that climate change, particularly the increasing water temperature in the Gulf of Maine, is having on lobster populations. Wahle explained that with the Gulf of Maine warming faster than any other ocean in the world, the future for lobsters in uncertain. Wahle is developing models which seek to forecast future lobster landings.

Esperanza Stancioff, from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and Samuel Belknap, from the University of Maine, explained their work to develop a business model to help lobstermen plan for the future of unknowns in the lobster industry. Their research team worked with lobstermen from the Spruce Head area to populate the model with real data on the costs and income associated with running a lobster business. Lobstermen can use this model to enter information to predict profits under different future business scenarios.

business tools available to lobstermen to the intricate supply chain that a lobster follows from the trap to the table. Steve Barkhuff, from Fishing Partnership Support Services, a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts, spoke about the importance of financial planning for lobstermen and various options available to lobstermen as they first start out. He also discussed the importance of planning for the future of your business to ensure that you are proactive in keeping it profitable. Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC), gave a thorough overview of the lobster markets, the relationship between the Canadian and the United States lobster fisheries, and the efforts of the Collaborative to boost demand for Maine lobster, particularly Maine new-shell lobster.

Finally the lobstermen were given an overview of current and future state and regional issues facing the Maine lobster industry, including whale rules, bait availabilityand coral zones. The group then talked about ways to get younger lobstermen involved in tackling these issues at a time when the fishery is strong.

“I think it’s very important to find out more,” Elliott Nevells, age 17, of Deer Isle said. “I can count on my fingers the number of student license holders that are actually going to do something with it. There really aren’t many coming up,” he said.

The next step for the young lobstermen participating in the Lobster Leadership Institute will be to attend meetings of their choice. These meetings could include ones held by the Marine Resources Committee, the state Lobster Advisory Council, the MLMC, the MLA board of directors meeting, or the Boston Seafood Show, to name a few. “The point is to expose them to the various opportunities that exist for them to become more involved and show them that their opinions are valued and that they can make a difference,” said McCarron. In May, the participants will travel to Prince Edward Island to stay and fish with lobstermen in that province in order to learn more about how lobstering is conducted outside of Maine.

“Those were good talks,” Cody Stewart, 20, of Long Island commented. “It’s good to know what’s going on and to take on more knowledge.”