MLA Board of Directors prepares for change of leadership

First published in Landings, July, 2016.

The dictionary defines “transition” as the process of changing from one state or condition to another. For the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) transition is just another facet of the organization’s long history. The MLA began in 1954 as a small group of lobstermen who were concerned about getting more than 34 cents per pound for their catch. Today it is a statewide organization that grapples with local, state and federal issues affecting all Maine lobstermen and the fishery.

MLA board members Tad Miller and Bob Baines at a board meeting. MLA photo.

MLA board members Tad Miller and Bob Baines at a board meeting. MLA photo.

During those 62 years, the MLA has been fortunate to have a board of directors comprising lobstermen from harbors large and small, led by a president whose perspective encompasses the entire coast. First Leslie Dyer of Vinalhaven, then Ossie Beal of Beal’s Island, followed by Ed Blackmore of Stonington, and David Cousens of Spruce Head have led the MLA through the decades. Pat White served as MLA’s first executive director who was not also its president, followed by Patrice McCarron. During each leader’s tenure the MLA faced many controversies and conflicts.

At the MLA Board meeting in June, David Cousens announced that he plans to step down as the MLA president in 2019. By that time Cousens will have served as the MLA president for 28 years, the longest-serving president in the organization’s history.

The process of handing over the helm of the MLA has already begun. New officers were elected from the board of directors at the June meeting. Kristan Porter of Cutler will serve as vice-president, taking the position vacated by Jim Dow; John Williams of Stonington will serve as second vice-president; and Donny Young of Cushing will serve as secretary/treasurer, taking the position vacated by Arnie Gamage Jr.

Williams has been a member of the MLA “since forever,” he said. “I signed up in 1973 after my father said that if I was fishing I’d better be a member.” He has served on the board of directors for slightly more than three years now. “They asked me to be on the board several times. When my wife became free to drive me, I joined,” Williams said. Being a board member of the MLA doesn’t always sit well with the other lobstermen in Williams’ area. He said that he’s been accused of being brainwashed. “I say to people stop complaining. If there’s something you don’t like, come to a meeting. I have a friend who doesn’t like the MLA because of Dave. I told him now there’s no excuse not to be a member!” Williams laughed.

He’s not sure what being an MLA officer will mean for him but Williams has always been ready to volunteer his time for the good of the lobster industry. “I’ve taken people out on the boat, talked to all sorts of people. One of the things I feel good about is all the younger lobstermen on the board now as a result of the Lobster Leadership Institute. They now know what the world outside their own territory is like in terms of lobstering,” he said.

Donny Young, who lobsters out of Cushing, has been on the MLA board for eight years. “I wanted to be involved, to know what was going on and to have a voice,” he explained. Being a board member has allowed Young to learn more about how other lobstermen operate along the coast and to meet lobstermen from areas very different from his own. “Any rules or regulations apply to everyone but they affect other regions differently. It’s important to know how they fish in other areas and how laws affect lobstermen there,” he said.

Becoming secretary/treasurer of the MLA wasn’t something Young thought much about until he was elected. “I think the guys worked it out in the car on the way to the meeting. Then they nominated me and there you go!” he joked.

The MLA Board hopes that this first step begins to lay the groundwork for the transition. There are a lot of new board members who need to get a few more years of experience under their belts before considering a leadership role in the organization. “The MLA is an amazing organization and our board is top-notch,” said Patrice McCarron. “Change is never easy but this group is clearly able to rise to the challenge.”