Cutler Man to Head Maine Lobstermen’s Association

Kristan Porter of Cutler will be elected president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) this month, taking the reins of the 64-year-old organization from long-time president David Cousens. He brings to the position years of involvement not only with the MLA but also with the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, the Downeast Draggermen’s Association, the state’s Sea Urchin Zone Council and other groups. But more importantly, he brings a clear sense of purpose.
“The MLA needs to be the solid voice when big issues come up. We need to be there. That’s what we do best, whether you are a member or not. We have your back,” Porter said, referring to the many decades of advocacy on behalf of Maine’s lobstermen by the MLA.
Porter began fishing when he was a youngster, going with friends or relatives. After high school he decided to go to college, attending the University of Southern Maine for three years in pursuit of a degree as an industrial arts teacher. He returned to Cutler before the end of his studies. “When I was lobstering and fishing during high school I thought ‘Boy, this is hard work!’ Once I was living and going to school in Portland I realized that fishing was exactly what I wanted to do,” Porter said.
He worked on draggers for several years in the early 1990s, fishing for mahogany clams, quahogs, urchins, and scallops, which kept him away from Cutler. Eventually Porter and several other dragger captains decided to start their own organization to make their concerns heard in Augusta. In 1994 they founded the Downeast Draggermen’s Association. As a young man from Cutler suddenly thrust into the State House, Porter found himself in a different world. Loud voices and bluster, it turned out, weren’t the proper tools of the trade. “I remember one time I was spouting off [to a committee]. One of the members took me aside afterward for a tongue lashing. I was out of bounds. I had to learn you go and voice your opinion respectfully,” he said. He credits many of the legislators in Augusta at the time with giving him a good education in how government works.
But in the late 1990s, the Draggermen’s Association dissolved. With a wife and young children, Porter wanted to spend more time at home, so he returned to lobstering. He soon became involved in the Maine Fishing Industry Development Center, a federally-funded nonprofit organization that promoted fishing industry diversification in response to new groundfishing regulations. Through the Center, Porter worked with Gail Johnson, John Norton, Maggie Raymond and other fishing industry professionals to provide grants for fishing ventures throughout the state.
It was through the Development Center work that Porter was introduced to the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum. One seat on the Forum’s board of directors was reserved for a representative of the Maine Scallopers Association. Porter was asked to take that seat and eventually became the president of the Forum’s board of directors.
Porter continued in various fisheries, such as scalloping, but as the years passed found that more of his livelihood came from lobstering. David Cousens suggested that he take a seat on the MLA board and, after some hesitation, Porter did. “I learned a lot from the guys then, about how the fishery worked throughout the state, not just in my area. I would drive down to the meeting with Dwight [Carver] and Bobby [Ingalls] and we’d talk about things,” Porter recalled. “I learned that everyone in lobstering has the same concerns, they are just all a little different.”
In March 2010, MLA organized the International Lobstermen’s Exchange, bringing lobstermen from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Tasmania to Maine to meet lobstermen and to talk about their respective fisheries. Porter helped organize an overnight stay in Cutler. Three years later, the New England Aquarium asked Porter to attend a conference in Australia that focused on how rock lobster fishermen there avoid whale entanglement in their gear. Porter, then MLA vice-president, had participated in various research studies testing different ropes and gear modifications designed to reduce whale entanglements in the Gulf of Maine. After the conference, Porter went lobstering with Australian lobstermen, met with officials from southwest Australia’s fisheries management agency, and generally learned a lot about how things are done on the far side of the world. “The guys were so good to me there. It’s a lot like Maine in a way, because it’s a huge country with a small population,” Porter said. In April 2015, he returned to Australia to speak at the Rock Lobster Congress on Maine’s lobster fishery. His aim was to keep the flow of ideas between lobstermen, started in 2010, going.
Keeping one’s eyes on the big picture while promoting new ideas is an important part of the MLA, according to Porter. “There are a lot of local issues out there, but the [MLA] board tries not to get involved in them unless there are statewide implications,” he said. “We have some sharp young guys on the board now and they are definitely stepping up.”
Porter is proud of the MLA’s track record and being part of an organization that has led the Maine lobster industry for so many years. There have been other attempts to organize lobstermen over the years, but the MLA has remained the state’s largest fishermen’s organization and a steady presence. Porter does feel that the MLA suffers from the fact that not all lobstermen are focusing on the big picture and the long-term interests of the lobster fishery. The MLA has always been proactive on important issues like federal whale rules, while other states have been blindsided by them. He doesn’t understand why many more Maine lobstermen aren’t MLA members. “You can disagree on little things, I get that. But you need to look at the big picture. There’s a real tough time coming ahead. And we are fighting for you.”