The Maine lobster industry has lost one of its treasures. Ed Blackmore passed away in late December at the age of 92. His obituary in the Bangor Daily News gives a sense of his amazing resume: Ed was a graduate of Stonington High School and served with the U.S. Army occupation forces following WWII in Germany. Afterwards, for 31 years he was a full-time fisherman. He was a charter member of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) and its president and executive director from 1974 to1991. Two major accomplishments during his tenure were the Tax Reform Act of 1976, which recognized sternmen as independent contractors, and the State sales tax exemption on commercial fishing vessels in 1979.
Ed was a leader in establishing the lobster cooperative movement in Maine and was a member of the Stonington Lobster Cooperative for many years.
He served on the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) and was chairman of the Maine Lobster Advisory Council, and director and credit officer of the Fishermen’s Credit Union. Ed was founding chairman of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, and he received an honorary doctorate degree from the university in 1992. He was a member of the board of directors of Commercial Fisheries News, the executive committee of Associated Fisheries of Maine, and the U.S. Coast Guard National Fishing Vessel Safety Board of Advisors.
His dreams for and dedication to the Maine lobster industry were an inspiration that will remain with us forever. When I first joined MLA, I was lucky enough to get to know Ed. Without recognizing it, he was setting extremely high standards. How could I be as straightforward and honest, as fearless, as courageous? For him, standing up to a senator, a president, or anyone else was no different than talking to an acquaintance at the supermarket. He showed respect for everyone and demanded respect from everyone.
Ed loved the lobster fishery and its hard-working men and women. He understood immediately that we needed to be responsible; we needed to protect the environment we worked in; we needed to support our coastal communities; and that we had a huge challenge ahead of us to do this. It was a challenge that Ed took on headfirst.
I remember when Ed first told us he was going to a NEFMC meeting. The MLA board sent him with just one message to deliver, “Tell them they need to adopt our V-notch law.” When we next met, we asked him how the meeting went and his response was, “You mean, after they stopped laughing?” Ed didn’t let this ignorance deter him. He never wavered from the mission. Years later, the V-notch law was not only enacted by the New England states, but by the Irish lobster fishery and parts of Canada as well.
When the idea of the Lobster Institute came up — an international organization to bring fishermen, scientists, dealers, and regulators together to identify and work for common goals — Ed embraced it. Even though half the MLA board at the time wanted nothing to do with it, Ed felt strongly that the Institute would open doors for better communication and that going forward we would need allies to survive the political environment. We needed to find Maine scientists who would work with us. Working together would bring credibility that we needed to move ahead. Even before that, Ed and Clayton Howard had traveled the coast to help start lobster co-ops, including mine, the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-Op.
Ed loved young people and innovation. He knew that he needed to involve a younger generation (now the older generation) in order to withstand the outside pressures of state and federal regulations. He knew that fishermen had to participate in the political process, like it or not. The federal proposals at the time were particularly scary — closed seasons, a 4-inch minimum measure, abolishment of the V-notch law, corporate trap licenses (the accumulation of trap tags by one owner) and, incredibly, open season on lobsters for draggers (even though the trap fishery was deemed over-fished). These threats to our way of life were real, and somehow Ed helped maneuver us past them. When he passed the torch, he knew that future battles were looming (like the whale issue), but he’d seen our industry grow in ways past generations couldn’t have imagined.
How many people do you know who have influenced change in your life? There’s no one involved in the Maine lobster business alive today who doesn’t owe thanks to Ed Blackmore. The fishing business would simply not be what it is today if he hadn’t stepped up to the plate. He spent thousands of hours traveling to meetings to advocate for us, while we stayed fishing.
Ed, I know you’re up there looking down on us now, still putting miles on your cream-colored El Dorado, probably speeding… but if you hear me, I can’t thank you enough!