First published in Landings, December 2014/January 2015.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance (MLCA), the non-profit sister organization of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, kicked off 2014 with the first Maine Lobster Leadership Institute, held in May. The Institute was created to inform young lobstermen of lobster management and science issues. As the Maine lobstermen cope with a rapidly changing fishery, encouraging new leaders who are well versed in the fishery’s complexities is important for the future.
The twelve lobstermen first spent two days in class. Carl Wilson, chief lobster biologist at the Department of Marine Resources (DMR), provided an overview of the state of the lobster fishery both in Maine and in Canada, emphasizing the benefits that Maine’s many conservation measures have brought to the fishery. He also reviewed the state’s lobster monitoring programs and the health of lobster stocks. Deirdre Gilbert, policy director for DMR, spoke about the state, regional and federal management framework in which lobstermen must operate. Young lobstermen today have no memory of the time when fishery was under the purview of the New England Fisheries Management Council rather than the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission nor of the benefits that came to Maine when the switch was made in the late 1990s. They were not yet on the water when the state made the historic decision to cede control of lobster regulations to local Lobster Zone Councils in 1996 and created the Lobster Advisory Council. The lobstermen also learned about the impact that the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act have had on lobstering in Maine during the past ten years with the introduction of sinking line and vertical line reductions, due for implementation in 2015.
The highpoint of the Institute was a six-day trip to Prince Edward Island to meet Canadian lobstermen. The trip gave the participants a first-hand look at how Maine’s lobster fishery differs from that of the Canadians. The P.E.I. lobstermen were unfailingly hospitable, opening their homes to the visitors, taking them out on their boats, even packing lunches for the Maine lobstermen. The participants also visited two processing plants, Royal Star in Tignish, which is a fisherman-owned business, and the smaller Acadian Fishermen’s Cooperative.
The Canadian system was eye-opening to the lobstermen. Justin Papkee of Long Island was struck by the pressure the short season places on P.E.I. lobstermen. “They have a two-month season so they have to go every day [except Sunday]. You can’t miss a day for weather or boat trouble,” he said. Chris Welch of Kennebunk, who fished with the Jollimore family of French River (on the north shore of P.E.I.) was surprised by the limited season too. “I didn’t know it was a just a two-month season. I wouldn’t like that sort of pressure at all, forced to go every day even if the weather’s bad,” Welch said.