ASMFC honors Pat White with David Hart Award

First published in Commercial Fisheries News, December, 2011. Reprinted in the MLA Newsletter, December, 2011 with permission.

BOSTON, MA – On Nov. 9, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) presented its highest honor – the Captain David H. Hart Award – to lobsterman and industry advocate Patten White of Maine.

Since being named the Maine governor’s appointee to ASMFC back in 1995, White has chaired the commission’s lobster board, shrimp section, and menhaden board.  He was a member of the New England Fishery Management Council from 1996 to 1999 and is a long-standing member of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team.  He also has served on a number of other management and advisory bodies, including the Pew Oceans Commission.

But to most people, White is still best known for his long tenure as executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), which began on Jan. 1, 1992 when he agreed to team up with MLA President David Cousens.  Cousens had just taken over the helm from Ed Blackmore and wanted White by his side.

For over a decade, the two leaders fought passionately for Maine lobstermen and provided a powerful and effective voice for industry at home and throughout the region.  Doors opened for them in the nation’s Capitol.  Even when Patrice McCarron took over as MLA executive director in November 2001, White stayed on for several more years as chief executive officer, paving the way for a smooth transition.  He is still an active lobsterman and an often turned-to industry spokesman.

Captain David H. Hart Award recipient Pat White, center, with George Lapointe, left, and Vince O’Shea, ASMFC executive director. ASMFC photo.

Jack Travelstead of Virginia, chair of ASMFC’s award committee, said White was especially deserving of the David Hart Award.

“Pat truly exemplifies the spirit of Captain Dave, bringing together a rich fishing history, a commitment to sustainable fisheries management, a dedication to the commission and its mission, and an unquenchable enthusiasm and optimism for doing the right thing in an easygoing and friendly way,” Travelstead said.

“He treats members of the public, fishermen, fellow commissioners, and congressional representatives with the utmost respect – and expects the same in return.  He recognizes the importance of the entire marine environment, not just fish and lobster,” said Travelstead.

A complete surprise

White attended the David Hart Award luncheon ceremony during ASMFC’s 70th annual meeting with friend and former Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe, who White thought was receiving the award.

Typically, luncheon attendees enjoy their meals and settle back for coffee before the annual award is presented.  But this year, people no sooner had time to pick up their salad forks when Travelstead began speaking.  White tuned in, expecting to hear an account of Lapointe’s many accomplishments.

But when the words “lobsterman” and “Maine Lobstermen’s Association” came out, White quickly caught on.

Travelstead said, “Pat White believes that the only way for fisheries management to succeed – for both the resource and the fishermen – is for fishermen to be knowledgeable and personally involved in the management process.  He has conducted himself as a true gentleman and, in doing so, has elevated the role of fishermen in the fisheries management process.”

As the crowd rose to its feet for a standing ovation, White’s family – the reason for the pre-meal presentation – entered the room:  Enid, his wife of 49 years; son Jeff White and daughter-in-law Wendy; and daughter Sue Volger, son-in-law Paul, and grandson Josh.  Erin Pelletier, executive director of the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, another successful organization that was founded under White’s leadership, also joined the table.

Clearly taken aback by it all, White, in his typical humorous fashion, said, “I feel like I’ve been bitten by my own dog.”

But then, true to form, White recounted a story about when he first became an ASMFC commissioner.  Jack Dunnigan was the commission’s executive director at the time – “a man I had a tremendous amount of respect for,” White began.

“Jack said to me early on, ‘It’s about the resource, stupid.’  And that was a driving force for me and Dave Cousens when we took on the Maine Lobstermen’s Association,” said White.

“I believe that you can’t have fishermen without a resource, and I hope that policy continues to drive this commission,” he said.

Lapointe, who knew all along he was the ruse in this year’s award presentation, was glad White got the Hart Award.

“In Maine,” he said, “Pat’s strength and enthusiasm has benefited the lobster industry greatly.”