Happy New Year! I can’t believe that 2017 has arrived. As I reflect back on 2016, I think this past season will be remembered as another strong year for most lobstermen. The state has not yet released the landings or value figures for 2016, but all signs seem to indicate that our numbers will be strong once again.

The Maine lobster season got off to a good start when predictions of an early shed never materialized. The lobsters seemed to be landed steadily along most parts of the coast during the summer, and most lobstermen reported a stronger-than-average price. The price did seem to soften as the fall days grew shorter and was further depressed in late November when the southwest Nova Scotia lobster fishery opened. By November, most lobstermen reported that landings had slowed and quality improved. It is upsetting to see the price weaken under these market conditions. However, as November dragged on, weather prevented southwest Nova Scotian lobstermen from landing their usual high volumes of lobster and the price rebounded.

Bait was probably the issue most hotly debated in 2016. Supply was limited due to offshore bycatch management restrictions, and the price went through the roof. As of mid-December, less than half of the offshore herring quota has been landed (under 20,000 metric tons). In the previous two years, nearly all of the offshore quota had been landed by the end of year, with more than 30,000 metric tons of landings. I hope that the Area 3 herring fishery is successful during the winter months and able to land the 20,000 metric tons of quota still available until May. It will have a major impact on bait supply and inventory when the lobster fishery starts up again next summer. The MLA will remain closely engaged in a host of management issues related to bait as we prepare for the 2017 season.

As I look ahead to 2017, I see an extremely busy year for the MLA and the lobster industry. The Maine Legislature will be back in fully swing in January for the first session of the 128th Legislature. This is a full session and I expect that there will be many bills debated. As I write this, Committee assignments have not yet been made and bill titles are not yet available.

The MLA Board has been grappling with the issue of ways to improve enforcement of marine laws along the coast, and this will be our primary issue for 2017. The driving concern is that all lobstermen deserve to fish on a level playing field. If lobstermen are able to cheat the system without significant consequences, the cheaters are rewarded and the law-abiding fishermen are penalized. The MLA has distributed a survey to members to solicit feedback on an array of issues the Board has been discussing. If you haven’t completed the survey, check your email. If you are not on email, call the office for the survey. 

As we look forward to the upcoming year, it is important to note a few of the dark clouds that put a damper on the fishery in 2016. Certainly the most tragic was the loss of Jon Popham, a young MLA member from Machiasport. Popham died while fishing after he was caught in a line and pulled overboard. He left behind his wife and young son. This tragedy serves as a reminder of just how dangerous lobstering can be. When you work on the water, it is easy to take your safety for granted. Accidents happen quickly and can have devastating results – so be prepared! I would like once again to thank all those who gave to the Relief Fund which contributed $5,000 to the Popham family. Jon’s wife, Melinda, was overwhelmed by the generosity and support she received from the lobster industry.

The industry was shaken again in December as we collectively revisited the loss of Tom Hammond and Tyler Sawyer who died in 2014 when the F/V No Limits capsized in rough seas. Federal prosecutors have charged the captain, Christopher Hutchinson, with manslaughter, stating that he ignored severe weather warnings and had oxycodone, marijuana and alcohol in his system when he was rescued. These losses hit everyone hard, and help us keep our everyday challenges in perspective.

I hope that you are your family had a happy, safe and relaxing holiday. Please plan to attend the MLA’s Annual meeting in March – I hope to see you then.

As always, stay safe on the water.