coastal outlook: Thoughts from MLCA President Patrice McCarron

First published in Landings, May, 2017

You see it everywhere this month: lobstermen overhauling their gear, splicing lines, painting buoys, rigging traps, getting ready for the lobster season. A few boats are in the water but many are in boatyards where new engines, exhausts, or electronic equipment are being installed. The coast may seem quiet but in fact May is a busy time of the year for Maine lobstermen as the stories in this month’s Landings highlight.

In Portland, lobstermen, city officials, environmentalists and wharf and pier owners are wrestling with a complicated problem. Over the decades, the depths around many of the public and private wharves that make Portland a robust working harbor have decreased due to sediment. To keep these facilities available to fishing vessels, lobster boats, ferries, and recreational vessels, those sediments must be removed. The issue is where to put them, given that they are likely contaminated with a host of heavy metals and other toxic elements. Landings gives an overview of the remarkably collaborative approach taken by stakeholders to arrive at a solution to this issue.

Another issue that is causing concern among fishermen is the rising level of acidity in the Gulf of Maine and other water bodies. As more carbon dioxide enters the ocean from the atmosphere, a chemical conversion leads to an increase in the acidity of seawater. That in turn affects those animals with calcium-based shells, such as crabs, shellfish and lobsters. Research undertaken by a scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay indicates that kelp beds have a localized effect on carbon dioxide levels in seawater. That research may lead the way to improved environmental conditions in near-shore areas of the Gulf.

This year will be the first year that the new lobster Rapid Response Team will be active. The Team, created through The Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, stands ready to evaluate any unusual or diseased lobster spotted by a lobsterman. As Cathy Billings of the Lobster Institute explains in this issue, it’s important that researchers know of any changes taking place in the state’s lobster populations; quickly connecting lobstermen and scientists is part of that proactive approach.

The Maine lobster fishery continues to thrive, as landings and value continue to remain high. Still, it’s important for the next generation of lobstermen to keep their options open because what’s true today may not be true in ten years’ time. In this issue, we focus on the Rockland school district’s successful Fisherman’s Academy, which helps keep young lobstermen on track in school. The program combines hands-on learning with traditional classes in an educational format designed to work with the students’ fishing interests.
We also feature an update on the participants in the Maine Lobster Leadership Institute, a program of the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance. Fourteen young lobstermen and women began their studies of lobster science, management and business in February. Since then they have attended numerous meetings and conferences as a means of better understanding the broader world in which lobstering exists. Some went to the Seafood Expo North America in Boston in March, where seafood vendors from throughout the world vie to promote their products. Some attended a media training sponsored by the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, and a business training focused on using QuickBooks software Others attended the Joint Committee on Marine Resources work sessions and public hearings in Augusta, learning first-hand how public policy is made. In May, the group will travel to Prince Edward Island to live and fish with lobstermen in that province. It’s an exciting time for these future lobster industry leaders.

The Island Institute is offering a new program designed to help island and coastal residents successfully start new businesses. Called the Launchpad Program, it offers a range of small business support services such as business counseling, professional development grants, financial and digital literacy trainings and, most importantly, grants and loans. Brianna Warner explains the scope of the program in this issue.

Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, provides an overview of the many lobster marketing efforts underway in the Maritime Provinces. The four provinces collectively land more lobster than Maine, yet have never agreed on a collective marketing strategy for their product. However, last year the federal government introduced the Canadian Brand for agricultural and seafood products. Now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have all come out with their own seafood brands. The push to market Canadian lobster as a premium product is on!

Finally, we hear from a lobsterman on Mount Desert Island who has had enough of the local seal population. Steve Smith, a seventh-generation fisherman, hauls his traps by hand in Otter Creek Cove. During the past few years he has been joined by not one, not two, but close to forty seals who, he says, have eaten everything in sight. In this issue of Landings we look at what species those seals may be and what recourse fishermen have when beset by the omnivorous critters.

Enjoy this beautiful spring weather, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback.