The Maine Lobstermen’s Association annual meeting took place on March 1 at the Samoset Resort in Rockport. MLA president Kristan Porter opened the meeting by recognizing the MLA board and staff members for their efforts during the previous year. He asked for a motion and a second to accept the minutes of the 2018 annual meeting; motion to accept was approved unanimously. He then presented the slate of nominees for three-year terms of board membership, noting that Laurin Brooks of Kennebunk was nominated as a new board member. A motion to accept the slate was made and seconded; motion approved unanimously.
Porter then presented the MLA Award for Outstanding Service to Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Bureau of Marine Science director Carl Wilson. Wilson grew up in the lobster fishery, not as a lobsterman but as the son of University of Maine (UME) economist Jim Wilson. He became the lead lobster biologist for the state in the 1990s at a time when federal fishery regulators considered the lobster stock depleted. As Porter noted, Wilson partnered with professor Yong Chen at UME to prove that lobster stocks were not overfished. He has been involved in many significant lobster research projects over the years before becoming the science bureau director in 2015.
Porter also presented the MLA Golden V-Notch Award to Dwight Carver of Beals Island. Carver, who served for many years on the MLA board, was commended for his efforts to aid the lobster fishery and lobstermen over the years, attending numerous meetings and serving on the Large Whale Take Reduction Team (TRT). “He does it for his community,” Porter said. “His face lights up when he talks about his family and community.”
Porter gave a quick review of the MLA’s activities of the past year. Policy efforts focused on whales, bait, and lobster management issues. MLA programs included collaborative research n whale issues with DMR, involvement in the DMR Lobster Research Collaborative and the expanding business discount program for members. Through the MLA’s sister organization, the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance (MLCA), the newspaper Landings was published and sent for free to all commercial license holders each month; the MLCA also coordinated the Maine Lobster Leadership Institute.
During 2018 MLA staff were involved in the Gubernatorial Forum held at the Strand Theatre in Rockland in October; organized support from within the fishing industry for the re-appointment of Patrick Keliher as DMR Commissioner; came out against energy development in the Gulf of Maine; petitioned EPA
for relief from the Tier 4 engine standards; supported reauthorization of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative; negotiated to delay implementation of the ASMFC’s 100% reporting requirement in Maine for five years; and participated in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s life jacket testing project in Maine.
A huge amount of time in 2018 was spent on representing lobstermen’s perspectives on possible right whale protection measures. The MLA successfully petitioned to become an intervenor in the court case brought by environmental organizations against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to force immediate action on right whale protection. It also spoke forcefully against the notion of ropeless fishing in the Maine lobster fishery as one of Maine’s representatives on the TRT. The MLA also was involved in DMR’s three-year research project on the strength of lines used in the fishery. “Before they can make us change,” explained Porter, “we need to know where we are now. We are testing rope and breaking rope and finding a huge difference between new rope right off the shelf and rope two to three years old.”
The MLA also organized eight meetings with lobstermen throughout the coast to get their thoughts on how best to address the push for new whale conservation measures. Staff is also monitoring the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission’s right whale working group to keep lobstermen aware of what might take place there.
Porter then spoke about the MLA’s 2019 planned activities. The MLA will work with the Maine Lobster Dealers Association and Bates College on developing a lobster quality program prior to the start of the season. It also will hold safety trainings for lobstermen in concert with Fishing Partnership Services of Massachusetts. To add data to the ongoing discussion of right whale entanglement protections the MLA will support research on a time tension line cutter developed by Blue Water Concepts.
The MLA’s attorney Mary Anne Mason spoke to the membership about legal actions related to whales. In May 2018, environmental organizations brought suit against NMFS under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), arguing that the government had not done its job under those laws to protect right whales and that the court should force NMFS to take steps to do so, which could include closing the lobster fishery. The MLA strategy was to become an intervenor in the case. As a party to the case, but not a litigant, the MLA will have the right to review information and decisions that affect lobstermen and can add information to the process. Mason said that the discovery or information gathering process was still going on but should end by mid-April. Then the judge would set a schedule for a hearing likely to take place in the fall. The hope is that the TRT will come up with protective measures before then.
MLA’s executive director, Patrice McCarron, reviewed the situation with herring. The official quota released by NMFS for 2019 is 70% less than in 2018, which translates into a loss of 77 million pounds of herring. Area 1A quota has been cut dramatically. Additional, deeper cuts will occur in 2020 and 2021.
The cuts occurred because the 2018 herring stock assessment found that herring biomass was down sharply due to poor recruitment from 2013 onward. In addition, in 2018 the New Brunswick weir fishery had a really good year, landing 11,000 metric tons of herring; their harvests are considered part of the Gulf of Maine stock and so are counted when tallying up the year’s total landings.
The MLA conducted a survey of members in 2018 to understand their concerns about bait supply in 2019. Of the total, 87% reported that they were concerned or extremely concerned; 82% said they were concerned that the bait problem would lead to an economic crisis for lobstermen; and some said that the strong would survive the herring reduction and the weak would drop out. McCarron emphasized that Maine’s regulations for bait biosecurity are strict and that no bait that threatens the marine environment can be used as lobster bait. However, DMR is looking at allowing a type of carp found in Illinois to be used as well as Gulf of Mexico menhaden. McCarron noted that even if all the state quota and episodic quota for menhaden is harvested this year, it would represent just a very small fraction of the amount of herring no longer available.
To close the meeting a raffle for five gift packages was held. The winners were Jordan Drouin, Mark Jones, Gerry Cushman, Craig Stewart, and Bobby Ingalls. Porter thanked the companies which had provided items for the gift packages: Brooks Trap Mill, Sea Rose Trap, Hamilton Marine, Friendship Trap, McMillan Offshore Safety and Training, Plante Buoy Sticks, and Maine Camp Gifts.
Category: MLA News, People