First published in the MLA Newsletter, December, 2012.
What a year. After an historic lobster glut, international blockade, superstorm, the Presidential election, devastatingly low prices and record landings, I think many of us will be happy to see this year end. Speaking for the MLA, I can say this year proved to be one of the organization’s busiest.
Making MLA’s mission — to advocate for responsible resource management and prosperity for Maine’s commercial lobstermen — into a reality boils down to dedication, hard work and perseverance by the MLA board, staff and members. As a result, the MLA is widely recognized and respected as a professional organization of lobstermen working to sustain a way of life. The MLA has earned this reputation because we are a credible grassroots organization supported by you, our members.
What the MLA does every day is simple: we make sure the world knows that Maine’s lobster industry is alive and well, and that we intend to stay that way. MLA’s presence at hundreds of policy, science, management and industry meetings each year sends the message that Maine’s lobster industry is paying attention and has an opinion on any changes that will affect us. We regularly communicate with our federal delegation, Governor, state officials and legislators. It is the MLA that ensures that Maine lobstermen are properly represented at the AMSFC and that our Congressional delegation remains up to speed on the issues that affect us.
Part of the MLA’s clout comes from our willingness to partner with other organizations. We regularly attend industry gatherings such as the Maine Fishermen’s Forum; marketing events such as the Boston Seafood Show; and science meetings such as stock assessment workshops. Over the past few years we have collaborated with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to document the operating costs of commercial harvesters. The data gathered from more than 1,000 lobstermen will be used to assess lobstermen’s economic vulnerability to cost fluctuations and future management actions. And we took action on the industry’s concerns about the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, getting strong industry representation on the Council and making strides to improve their accountability. Our partnerships also lead us to serve as an adviser on many projects such as the LAC marketing subcommittee, GMRI limited entry study, PERC licensing study and Maine Sea Grant’s international lobster science symposium.
A cornerstone of our work is to minimize the impacts of policy decisions on Maine’s lobster industry. This year the MLA weighed in on everything from offshore wind turbine siting, to bait supply and whale entanglements. Then there are the issues that no one planned for such as the early shed, price collapse and blockades in Canada. Much of the MLA’s time this summer was spent communicating with state officials, our Congressional delegation, members of the lobster industry and the press. The volume of phone calls from local, regional, national and international press was unprecedented.
The fate of the new right whale regulations due to be implemented in 2014 continues to cloud the horizon. Following a year of outreach meetings with lobstermen, the MLA published a handbook entitled Lobster Pot Gear Configurations in the Gulf of Maine, the first comprehensive look at how gear is set and fished in the Gulf of Maine. This information was then mapped and integrated into a modeling project led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) to forecast the risk of a right whale encountering Maine lobster gear set in local fishing territories. The MLA worked closely with DMR to submit comments on how Maine could best reduce vertical lines in federal waters by trawling up gear. The MLA also took a hard look at the data behind the marine mammal stock assessment process, and attended the Large Whale Take Reduction Team and the annual Right Whale Consortium meetings.
MLA has been working with Maine Sea Grant to offer the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program to Maine lobstermen. We have provided more than 75 training workshops on an array of topics including business planning, marketing, and lobster quality to nearly 1,800 lobstermen; more than 1,000 have completed the required 12 hours of workshops and finished their long-term business plan.
Making sure that the lobster industry is informed of the MLA’s work and abreast of issues that may impact their livelihoods is a responsibility that the MLA takes very seriously. We do this through the expanded MLA newsletter which is sent for free each month to all Maine’s commercial lobstermen, business members and elected officials. The newsletter’s content is now available online and searchable by topic. The MLA also provides informative weekly e-news updates, and we distribute the weekly lobster, bait and fuel prices to our members.
Because of this growing work portfolio, the MLA board did some restructuring to refine and strengthen MLA’s long-standing position as a staunch and vocal advocate for Maine’s commercial lobstermen. The MLA Board reasoned that effectively meeting the lobster industry’s educational, scientific and charitable needs would require a neutral organization able to work with a broad group of stakeholders. The MLA has established a new non-profit organization, the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance (MLCA) to serve as a sister organization to the MLA, allowing the MLA to continue its focus on advocacy.
During 2012, the MLA transitioned much of its research and educational project work over the MLCA. The MLCA assumed responsibility for the herring acoustic survey, initiated by GMRI and MLA. MLCA hired ten lobster vessels to conduct acoustic surveys of herring during the fall spawning season. The data will be an important element in future herring management and allocation decisions. In January 2013, the MLA Newsletter will be relaunched through the MLCA under the name Landings.
It’s a hard reality to face but the days are gone when we can take for granted that our children will have access to historic fishing territories, or that they can make a respectable living as long as they are willing to work hard, or that there will be a plentiful supply of fresh, local bait. Change, both large and small, has come to Maine’s lobstering industry. Your continued support as an MLA member will help us to navigate this change.
As John F Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” The MLA has worked for 58 years to ensure that you and your children have a future in this industry. That, of course, won’t change.
Happy holidays to you and your family. And as always, stay safe on the water.