Coastal Outlook – January 2018

Welcome to 2018! Here we are at the beginning of an empty calendar stretching forward into the next twelve months. Who knows what stories we will be covering during this brand new year?
To start with, Landings tackles the topic of ocean wind power in New England. The Gulf of Maine has been called the “Saudia Arabia of wind energy” because of the strength and reliability of its powerful winds. Yet proposals to construct offshore wind turbines have provoked concern among Maine lobstermen and coastal communities, most recently aimed at the Maine Aqua Ventus proposal for off Monhegan Island. Landings begins a new series looking at ocean wind development by examining the Block Island Wind Farm, which successfully began producing electricity for that island in May, 2017.
We also hear this month from retiring Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office director John Bullard on what’s next in terms of right whale protection. We all know that 2017 was a terrible year for North Atlantic right whales. Seventeen of the endangered whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in New England waters. Five more live whales were found entangled in lines. Researchers believe that the right whale birth rate has dropped significantly beginning in 2010, so each death resonates negatively throughout the population. Bullard explains activities that the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, a large coalition of public and private organizations and agencies, will be examining in 2018 to attempt to reverse this tragic turn of events.
Maine lobstermen are known as sturdy, independent folk who own and operate their own boats and businesses. Yet many have teamed up with each other to form fishing cooperatives. Cooperatives are businesses in which all members have an equal financial stake. A cooperative is managed by a board of directors. It buys the lobsters and other catch of its members and then sells them for the best price possible. It may also sell bait, fuel and other supplies to its members at a reasonable cost. Fishing cooperatives began in Maine after World War II and blossomed during the 1970s. Landings begins a new series this month on Maine’s fishermen’s cooperatives, their approaches to selling their products, and innovations they have made along the way.
Making sure that there are lobsters on the bottom for the next generation of lobstermen to catch has always been a vital part of the lobsterman’s ethic. One way to accomplish this is by V-notching egg-bearing female lobsters and tossing them back in the water. That way these fertile females can go on to hatch successive broods of young lobsters, safe from being caught and sold.
Some worry that this practice first started early in the previous century  is fading out. Despite it being the law, some Maine lobstermen are not V-notching egg-bearing females. One lobsterman in Northeast Harbor decided to make sure young lobstermen know the importance of V-notching, as you will learn in this issue of Landings.
Fifteen-year-old Beatrice Amuso of Islesford knows about V-notching and just about everything else related to lobstering. She began lobstering with her father when she was nine years old and then moved on to become the sternman for another island lobsterman. In the six years since then, Amuso has developed a deep love for the creatures of the sea as well as the speed and strength necessary for her work. We profile Amuso this month as part of our series “People of the Coast.”
Finding affordable health insurance is still an issue for many fishermen in Maine. As health insurance Navigator Bridget Thornton writes this month, certain changes in one’s life can make you eligible for enrollment in Affordable Care Act health insurance plans despite the fact that the regular enrollment period is over. Having a baby, losing one’s job, moving to a different state — these are all events that will allow you to sign up if you have not yet done so for 2018.
Finally, as the new year begins, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) gets ready for a major transition in its leadership. In the 64 years since the MLA was founded it has had only five presidents. Of those, the current president, David Cousens, has served the longest tenure, since taking the helm of the organization in 1991. This year Cousens will step down from the Board at the MLA’s annual meeting in March. Landings highlights the accomplishments of its past presidents in this month’s issue and will focus on Cousens and the MLA’s Board of Directors in subsequent issues.
We hope you enjoy this month’s Landings and welcome any story ideas you might have!