Steaming Ahead: September 2011

First published in the MLA Newsletter, September, 2011.

Most lobstermen with whom I’ve spoken this summer are reporting that 2011 is shaping up to be another good year. Lobstermen continue to see large numbers of short lobsters on bottom and most seem to be having strong and consistent catches. The price was stable through spring and early summer and has just recently started to decline. Let’s hope that the market will support a continued robust harvest through the end of the year.

Strong catches, however, seem to have tempered the industry’s concerns regarding the array of issues it is facing this fall. In the next few months, federal and state management agencies will be chugging along on a variety of issues that directly affect lobstermen. Events on the radar include vertical line risk reductions to protect whales, changes to shrimp and menhaden management, development of offshore wind energy and, perhaps most important, who will be the next DMR Commissioner.

With so many weighty issues pressing down on us, the question of who will assume the leadership role at DMR must be dealt with both swiftly and successfully. If Commissioner Olsen’s tenure taught us anything, it is that the lobster industry has a lot to lose, both within the state of Maine and in regional and federal management processes. For six months this winter and spring we felt that we had lost our voice and our ability to be part of important conversations. We know that we don’t want to go down that road again.

One of the positive aspects of Olsen’s resignation was that the industry gained more insight into the inner workings of the LePage administration. The administration has had its share of bad press since taking office, so many in the media were quick to impugn the Governor when Olsen resigned.

We have come to learn, however, that Governor LePage and his staff acted judiciously concerning Olsen. The newsletter’s lead story this month by Matthew Gagnon addresses several of Olsen’s main complaints against the Governor – that he wasn’t able to meet with him, that he backed off on key policy decisions such as landing dragger-caught lobster, and that complaints against him were made anonymously – and shows them to have been false. This is not an example of an administration posturing to get good press. Gagnon’s article is based on documents that illustrate how the Governor’s office interacted with Olsen over several months.

As I said last month, I have been impressed with acuity and thoroughness of both the Governor and his staff. I continue to find them to be very open to learning about issues important to the Maine lobster industry. The circumstances surrounding Olsen’s resignation have served to reinforce that impression.

The MLA continues to be in close communication with the Governor’s office. We have been told that the administration intends to have a nomination for DMR Commissioner by mid-September when the Joint Marine Resources committee reconvenes. This is an aggressive schedule and certainly reflects the level of attention Maine’s fishing industry deserves.

I believe that the Governor’s office understands the importance of having strong leadership at DMR and now has a better sense of the type of individual the agency requires. Maine’s fishing industries, and the lobster industry in particular, are key economic drivers for the state. We deserve a leader who is well informed on fisheries issues, has the ability to honestly listen to constituents and respond to them courteously, and has the ability to lead our fisheries through the maze of regulations which we face. As we all know, we have a lot to lose.

Maine’s lobster industry provides thousands of steady jobs and generates more than $300 million in direct revenue to the state’s economy each year which multiplies into a billion dollars of economic activity. When we go head-to-head with wind developers over who gets to use prime ocean bottom, with our fellow fishermen over resource allocation issues or with the federal government and conservation community on additional whale protections, we need a Commissioner who has our backs. This industry should not be considered a special interest but rather a strong, sustainable and essential economic sector which is worth fighting for.

As always, stay safe on the water.