A fundamental truth in life is the concept that “united we stand, divided we fall.” And that is abundantly true in the lobstering world. As a diverse community, the lobster industry is notorious for its internal fighting driven by an “every man for himself” and “survival of the fittest” mentality. The results have created many losers and few winners. Our predisposition to fight amongst ourselves is well understood by federal regulators, scientists and the environmental community. And it makes the lobster industry an easy target.
Every fisherman is different, and what works for some may not work for others. Many choose to go into fishing because of the freedom and independence that it allows; some would say that working together is not in our genetic makeup. The MLA’s founders recognized this and focused on common issues that brought lobstermen together, not further apart. The MLA’s board members have continued to keep Maine’s lobstermen unified in our common goal to maintain a strong fishery and robust coastal communities.
Our willingness and ability to work together as an industry and as a state are of paramount importance as the lobster fishery faces ever more significant threats. As an industry leader, I know that. I spend a lot of time listening carefully to lobstermen in an attempt to understand which lines can and cannot be crossed, and where we can find common ground to move forward.
Over the years, several fishery groups have been formed for the express purpose of fighting an organization — such as the MLA — which already exists. This happens when fishermen feel disenfranchised or don’t share the mainstream view. Yet over time, as these splinter groups mature and become more educated on various topics, the perceived divides narrow significantly. The simple truth is that it is far easier to harshly judge the actions of others when you don’t truly understand what is going on.
I’m a realist and I know that lobstermen will never agree on everything, nor should they. Yet each of us must strive to offer some semblance of respect for those who are on the front lines trying to find solutions if we are to survive and hand our fishery and traditions on to the next generation. At some basic level, there must be an acknowledgement that everyone is fighting for the same goal whether you agree with the details or not — to maintain a healthy lobster fishery.
Sadly, I’ve experienced the Maine lobster industry falling to a new low when it comes to working together. We have entered an era where personal philosophies and beliefs come before facts, and we have been overrun by misinformation and unfortunately, lies. There is a contingent of keyboard warriors who seem to care only about themselves and consistently pass judgment without offering any constructive thoughts on how to move our industry forward.
Not surprisingly, the MLA is in their crosshairs and has been under consistent attack for its work to find solutions to the whale rules. When personal philosophy and opinion reign, the motto is “if you are not with me, then you are against me.” This is both lazy and divisive. There is no tolerance for different ways of thinking and no acknowledgement of the tremendous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. When it comes to the whale plan, these keyboard warriors are adamant that anyone who is not telling the feds to stick it where the light don’t shine is not truly fighting for the future of Maine lobstermen.
Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes the MLA’s efforts to keep lobstermen fishing in the face of new whale rules. In the absence of good information and with an earnest fear about the future of the industry, however, this toxic approach plants seeds of doubt as to whether anyone in Maine is actually fighting for them.
I can assure you that the MLA is.
If you read Landings, then you know this is true. The MLA has been in steady communication with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to dispute its facts about the role of the Maine lobster fishery in right whale entanglement. The MLA has written many letters, given presentations, met with the Congressional delegation, NMFS and Department of Marine Resources (DMR) on numerous occasions, and remains in regular communication with all of them. You may think that letters and presentations don’t amount to a hill of beans, but in fact our voice has been heard and is being reckoned with by those who have the power.
Then there’s the judicial process. The MLA is the only industry group in Maine that has intervened in the court case filed by environmental groups against NMFS. At great expense to the organization, the MLA entered the court case to ensure that if a judge decides that the court must take action to protect right whales, the MLA will be at the table when those deliberations take place.
The MLA is the only industry group in Maine to provide written comments to NMFS regarding the Take Reduction Team meeting in April, the agency’s data and assumptions driving the current whale rules, and in response to NMFS’s request for comments on the draft whale rules, to name a few. The only one.
The MLA is the only organization that has taken the time to dig into NMFS’s data and then put forward a case on why the developing whale regulations are over-reaching. We recognized that just saying “no” to the plan would not relieve the fishery of its legal obligations under the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts. To actually achieve a different outcome, you must provide the government with a strong basis in fact for your disagreement and offer alternatives based on data. If you hope to influence the outcome of any rule making process, putting your comments and concerns in writing is critical. Simply attending meetings to complain on the record will not produce results.
The DMR has done an admirable job in redrafting its whale plan for Maine. The MLA commends DMR for its excellent work and supports DMR’s effort to submit this plan to NMFS for analysis. Despite this excellent work, however, the MLA voted not to support the state’s plan because it seeks reductions that exceed the documented risk posed by the Maine lobster fishery. The MLA has the data to substantiate this. The MLA is concerned that the state’s plan creates unresolved safety and operational challenges for some sectors of the lobster fishery. The MLA will conduct an online survey of its members and then will draft an alternate risk reduction plan to submit to NMFS for analysis. With so much on the line for lobstermen, it makes sense for Maine to have more than one option on the table.
As the whale rule moves forward, I urge you to keep an open mind. Change can be scary and uncomfortable and true progress will require everyone to give something, without overburdening any particular sector of this industry. We must strive to maintain the diversity of our fishery because that is what makes our industry special, provides opportunities for so many, and keeps our coastal communities alive.
So take a few minutes to look at what is happening right now. Don’t be seduced by the lies or overly simplistic solutions of the keyboard warriors who are working to keep divisions among us wide open and sharp. Some groups find contention and name-calling their best or perhaps their only way of gaining support. Others, like the MLA, keep quiet and put their nose to the grindstone. At a time when lobstermen are challenged from nearly every point of the compass, I think it makes sense to stand united against the storms that are threatening us, not divided.
To all of our MLA members old and new, thank you for your support. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And as always, stay safe on the water.