“It’s like a bunch of rogue waves bearing down on us,” said Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA). “These court cases are complex, serious and they are not going away.”
Several legal cases brought by activists and national environmental organizations against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on behalf of endangered North Atlantic right whales threaten to close or severely limit the practice of lobster fishing in Maine. In order to counter the allegations that lobster fishing threatens the right whale population, the MLA has called on lobstermen and businesses throughout the coast to contribute to the Association’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF). “LDF contributions are key to this battle,” said Patrice McCarron, MLA executive director. “We have assembled a top-notch legal team to fight for a future for the Maine lobster industry. We need to build our case on good data and information, and the environmental community has been in control of that for way too long. It’s time for the lobster industry to invest in getting our story on the record, and that takes time, strategy and money.” After the MLA kicked off a campaign in June to raise $500,000 for the LDF, the response throughout the state was immediate.
Rebecca Spear, wife of Marshall Spear of Yarmouth, decided to organize a one-week fundraising auction on Facebook. “Putting together the auction was a spur of the moment decision,” she explained. “I’ve done larger auctions for other groups and really just wanted to find a way that I could help. I’m not the type of person who can sit around and watch!” Spear solicited donations of everything under the sun, from airplane and train tickets to jewelry and lobster bait. The auction brought in more than $4,500 for the LDF, much to the delight of Spear and the MLA board of directors. “My goal was to raise funds but also awareness. I think it’s important for brands and businesses with connections to Maine lobster know what the industry is facing. It’s also important for Maine consumers to understand as well. These are scary and uncertain times for Maine lobstering families, and I know the Maine Lobstermen’s Association Legal Defense Fund is going to be a vital resource in waging this battle,” Spear said.
Christine Crowley, owner of Sea Crow Company, an online bag and accessories company based in Hancock, decided that she needed to give something to the LDF as well. Her husband, Donnie, fishes out of Prospect Harbor and numerous family members and friends lobster as well. Crowley began her company doing custom embroidery for fishermen who wanted their fishing vessels embroidered on coats and sweatshirts. Six years ago, she incorporated as Sea Crow Company and began making tote bags, purses and other items, drawing inspiration from the colors of her husband’s rope and other elements of the lobstering business. “I was made aware of the MLA Legal Defense Fund by Facebook. I decided to donate 10% of my sales to the Fund,” Crowley said. She also chose to donate the 7% commission she receives from Sea Crow Company necklaces sold at Ellsworth Jewelers to the Fund as well. “Ellsworth Jewelers also agreed to match that donation,” she said. “It really was a no-brainer to me to decide to donate to the Defense Fund, not just because my husband is a lobsterman but because so many of my customers are too.”
Another entrepreneurial woman chose a creative way to generate money for the LDF. Jessica Crane, head of the nonprofit organization Outside Of The Box, which organizes events benefiting autism awareness, teamed up with Meagan Rackliff of CoastalMECreations to produce coffee mugs bearing the MLA’s campaign slogan “Save Maine Lobstermen” on them. Crane approached Adventure Advertising to produce the same slogan on T-shirts. All proceeds of the sale of both items go directly to the LDF.
“I feel as though it’s time for Outside Of The Box to give back to an industry that has helped us so greatly,” Crane declared on her web site. “Over the years of Outside Of The Box hosting events and fundraisers, we have always had tremendous support from Maine’s largest industry, lobstering. The lobstering men and women have always donated their catch, the trap builders have donated traps, the bait companies donated gift certificates toward bait.”
It hasn’t just been women finding ways to support the LDF. Nick O’Hara, of O’Hara Corporation in Rockland, is part of the organizing committee for that harbor’s annual lobster boat races. Because of the outbreak of COVID-19, the committee did not get approval from the Coast Guard to hold the races (on June 27) until very late.
“The race registration is how we generate money for prizes and raffles but we didn’t know if we were going to be able to have the races,” O’Hara said. “So the committee decided to donate all the money to the LDF. More money is coming in from sponsorships as well.” Because several races have been cancelled this summer, O’Hara expects more than the typical 50 to 60 boats that race in Rockland each year to turn up, further increasing the committee’s contribution. When asked who specifically came up with the idea of making such a generous gift, O’Hara replied, “I don’t know, it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Jason Philbrook, of Rockbound Computers and Navroc Marine Electronics, also decided to make a contribution. His company will donate $150 for every plotter sold between June 15 and July 31. Philbrook takes a pragmatic view of his donation. “I reviewed the LDF website and other information the MLA produces and saw quite a few customers in the pictures and interviews. I want them to stay in business,” he explained.
Philbrook recognizes the inextricable link between lobstering and the economic health of Maine’s small coastal communities. “We keep a long view of customer relationships. Most people think long view means we maintain a business relationship through a customer’s career. That’s correct but also short-sighted. We have customers whose kids and grandkids do business with us. People who are teenage sternmen right now may be our customers in a few years if the lobster fishery survives,” Philbrook said.
Many other companies and individuals are helping to reach the MLA’s target of $500,000, from Moody’s Gift Shop in Waldoboro to individual lobstermen donating a portion of their catch each week to the Fund. “It is amazing to read the notes that come with the contributions and to hear from lobstermen what they are doing to make sure we can represent in court and wherever else this whale issue takes us,” the MLA’s McCarron said. “It’s a long road but we are going to make it.”