Coastal Outlook: Thoughts from MLCA President Patrice McCarron

The Maine lobster fishery is the mainstay of the coast. Since 2008, Maine lobstermen have landed more than 1 billion pounds of lobster (1,097,686,000), pumping a huge amount of money into the state’s coastal towns and cities. In Hancock County, lobster produced $145 million of revenue for that Downeast region just in 2017.
That is why the predicted drop in herring that will be available for harvest in 2019 has sent a deep chill throughout the coast. Herring has historically been the preferred bait of Maine lobstermen. Due to a drop in the number of young fish being born, fishery managers are required to drastically cut commercial landings to allow the stock to rebuild. Thus next year the herring quota will drop by 47%, from 55,000 metric tons allowed in 2018 to 28,900 metric tons.

Lobstermen are concerned about what will happen next year when the amount of herring available to bait their traps drops sharply. J. Morrison photo.

What happens when something desired by all, whether that is gas or herring, becomes scarce? The price goes up, rationing of the scarce item takes place, and people become frantic. Landings looks at what the future may hold for lobstermen and bait dealers and how lobstermen can prepare.
On another front, the issue of how best to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales continues to be the focus of attention at the federal and regional levels. Thus far this year four right whales have been found entangled in fishing gear, significantly less than the 18 found dead in Canadian and U.S. waters in 2018. Maine lobster gear has only been found on one whale in the past two decades. This month we hear from several young lobstermen who have grown up in a fishery dominated by the whale issue. They have fished under a series of whale protection measures which, as you will learn, they consider matter of course. They are concerned, however, that potential future regulations will add further time and expense constraints to a difficult business.
Finding bait and avoiding right whales are two major problems for lobstermen. Another is actually having space on land from which to head out to sea. In our “People of the Coast” interview this month, Willis Spear, a Portland fisherman, talks about his decades-long battle to ensure that Portland fishermen have access along the city’s waterfront. A recent spate of proposed hotel and office development projects along Commercial Street threatens the city’s fishermen with even more sharply reduced access to the parking and gear storage areas vital to their businesses.
Monique Coombs, staff at the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, also writes about the dilemma of keeping working waterfronts available for this and future generations of fishermen. As she notes in her column this month, people care most about what they know personally. Right now it’s difficult for people to link as easily to a fisherman as they do to their farmers at the local farmers’ market. The stories told about fishermen often focus on the management or ecological aspects of the fishery, not the personal aspects of the person’s daily activities. Coombs argues that making the link between the consumer and the fisherman is one way to concentrate attention on the necessity of vital working waterfronts.
While lobsters may appear to be formidable creatures, armed with a hard shell and crushing claws, they are in fact vulnerable to an invisible threat: ocean acidification. Increased carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere has caused a chemical reaction in seawater that has made the oceans more acidic over time. That acidity has had devastating effects on shellfish aquaculture on both the East and West coasts. A recent conference held at Bowdoin College looked at the impact increased acidity may be having on lobsters, which we recount in this issue of Landings.
Bridget Thornton, the MLA health insurance Navigator, continues her review of Medicare and Medicaid this month as well. Medicaid came into being in 1965 and is designed to provide health coverage for low-income people. But, as Thornton points out, accessing that coverage is an intricate process, and one that varies by state.
We hope you enjoy this issue of Landings and look forward to your suggestions for future stories.