Change comes to the Maine Maritime Museum

First published in the MLA Newsletter, August, 2011.

The current lobstering exhibits at the museum will be expanded and improved during the next two years. Maine Maritime Museum photo.

It can be argued that the lobster fishery has changed more in the last 25 years than it did during the 100 years previous to 1985, which was when the Maine Maritime Museum’s exhibit Lobstering & the Maine Coast opened. That’s why we are eager to repackage what we’ve got and add considerably more, to bring our 45,000 annual visitors an updated look at the way lobstering is now.  Lighthouses and lobster are what folks are thinking about when they come to coastal Maine, so this exhibit has always been at the core of the Museum’s offerings.  In planning now, the new Lobstering & the Maine Coast is projected to open by July 4, 2014, and will explore Maine’s lobster fishery through five major sections: Lobsters 101, Fishing Smart, The Way We Are, Coming Out of the Shell, and Caught in Our Own Trap?

The new exhibit will continue to be housed in its own 6,200square foot, two-story building, originally built using the beams from a Waldoboro sail loft, and one of 18 buildings at the Museum’s 20-acre campus surrounding the site of the historic Percy & Small shipyard on the banks of the Kennebec just south of Bath Iron Works.

Over 675 objects associated with the original exhibition, including a progression of seven full-size historical lobster boat types, will be re-installed and supplemented with modern lobstering equipment, interactive stations and media presentations pertinent to the exhibit’s new take on the lobster fishery.

Here is a quick overview of the new exhibit:

Lobsters 101– Establishing lobster facts, features and foibles, i.e., the basics of the fishery. By satisfying such basic curiosity, the lobster-challenged can be led into looking beyond their plates toward a deeper understanding of just how tightly the lobster, a “mere” delicacy, grips the ecology, economy, and social history of the Maine coast.

Fishing Smart– the gear, the engines, the boats, the way these are all handled. Technology thresholds of many kinds have been crossed going after the same old crustacean, from peapods and well- smacks to diesels and data-loggers. Fishing smart has also come to mean fishing scientifically. The relationship of lobstering science to the fishery has become more cordial as it has yielded a greater useful understanding of the animal.

The Way We Are – A social history of why the nature of the lobster fishery – a high value-per-pound, day fishery of owner-operators – seems a good match to the geography and the proverbially independent personality of Maine’s coastal region.

Coming Out of the Shell – tracing lobster’s transformation from a lowly colonial staple, common fertilizer, and even despised jail-food into a gastronomic presentation piece conveying status to tables of the rich, famous (and those who would-be) around the world. The story of lobster is a story of the way we eat, a complex tale that blends history, technology, economics, ecology and marketing.

Caught in Our Own Trap? – The Maine lobster fishery is viewed as potentially vulnerable to collapse, despite many years of increased landings. This section will focus on threats to the fishery, including climate change, the price of oil, lobster in a recession, waterfront access, and the risk of being the dominant fishery on a coast once known for its maritime diversity.

With the goal of moving our museum audience toward a greater appreciation of the fishery, we are seeking input from those in the trade. To be successful at lobstering, there are a lot of ‘ologies’ to be managed , such as technology, ecology, psychology, meteorology, all framed  by the economics of the business and government regulation. A lot to keep straight, and a lot that can go wrong. We want to get this across. We want to know what works and what doesn’t when catching lobster.

Or, said another way, we want you to answer, “What are the five best decisions I’ve made (or the five worst decisions I’ve made)?”  That could be longer range (in your career), mid-range (this year, last year), or short range (this week). Or, “What are the lucky breaks I’ve had?”; “What was just plain bad luck?” (And what happened, either way.) With your answers, or further questions, please call or email: Chris Hall, Curator of Exhibits, Maine Maritime Museum in Bath: 443-1316 x 326, hall@maritimeme.org.

One final practical matter: our collection of lobster boat types needs to be supplemented by a modern fiberglass, diesel driven model, of a size representative of today’s fishery. This boat will be installed (on land) outside the exhibit building, as fully board-able with complete gear and fittings typical to the present day. Advice on locating such a boat would be appreciated; bear in mind that this vessel need only be visually intact; the engine will not ever be run, the hull will never be afloat.

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