It’s hard not to feel good about the world as spring moves into summer and pandemic restrictions are relaxed. It’s been such a long year for everyone and it is a relief to hope that life will feel a little more normal this summer.
By all accounts, Maine is on track to have an historic tourist season given all the pent-up desire among people to get together and, of course, enjoy Maine’s signature seafood product. The expectation of high local demand and low inventory of lobster should set us up for a strong lobster season.
Even as we prepare to reclaim important parts of our lives and livelihoods from the pandemic, the lobster industry is undeniably facing an uncertain future. There are so many concerns over what future whale regulations and the increasing momentum to develop large offshore wind farms will mean for our fishery. I view both whales and wind as existential threats to Maine’s centuries-old lobster fishery. Each of these issues on its own could fundamentally alter every lobsterman’s future; having to deal with them both at the same time is certain to deal the lobster industry a harsh one-two punch. How the industry responds will determine our future.
We are now in a long-term race to save our fishing heritage as we go head-to-head with well-funded environmental groups, multi-national energy companies, and sadly, parts of our own state and federal government. The MLA will bring to bear every resource that we have to ensure that the concerns of Maine’s lobstermen are heard and understood. The MLA Legal Defense Fund makes this possible. MLA has been and will continue to work diligently, day by day, month by month, to fight for what we believe in – our fishermen, the sustainable wild-caught food they provide, the jobs and economic stability they create for our rural coastal communities, and the continued opportunity for our children to live and work in Maine.
The MLA cannot be successful, however, if the fishing industry is not willing to stand together. We all know that fishermen are not going to agree on everything as these issues evolve. Yet lobstermen must be willing to listen to each other and be tolerant of those who do not share their view on every issue. Unfortunately, as many of you know, such tolerance is not a hallmark of our fishing culture. But despite this paradox, lobster industry leaders have been successful in the past in meeting and overcoming the many challenges lobstermen have faced. It is time for that sense of unity to once again come to the forefront in the face of these enormous threats.
Maine’s lobster fishery is strong because of its diversity and yet we have a long history of beating each other up over our differences. You constantly hear things like, ‘Those boys are overcapitalized and only know the good times,’ or ‘Those big boats are just greedy,’ to which the response is, ‘They don’t like to work hard,’ or ‘They’ve already made their money and now they want to shut it down for everyone.’
We will NOT survive unless we work together. We must put our egos aside and focus on ensuring a future for Maine’s fishermen.MLA executive director, Patrice McCarron
This is not the first time Maine’s fishermen have faced extraordinarily tough times. As Maine’s groundfishing industry was dismantled piece by piece more than 20 years ago, the large and small boat fleets did not work together. Maine’s fishing communities suffered. Much of the state’s federal scallop fleet suffered a similar fate. By contrast, after large-scale closures of the federal scallop fishery, the New Bedford fleet formed the Fisheries Survival Fund. The group’s name says it all – they joined together so their fishery would survive. They agreed to fund scallop research and proactively and aggressively engage in the management process. Their efforts have paid off — New Bedford has remained the country’s most lucrative port for 20 straight years.
So, let’s stop judging each other and start focusing on our common interest — finding a way for everyone, big or small, to have a place in Maine’s lobster fishery in 10 years. Given what is ahead for us once the final whale rule and Biological Opinion come into force, every single lobsterman on the coast of Maine inevitably will have to change how he or she fishes. The years ahead will be extremely stressful.
Maine’s fishing industry groups have put their differences aside and are leading by example. We have formed a loose coalition to speak with a unified voice on offshore wind. The MLA is working closely with the Maine Lobstering Union, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Maine Lobster Dealers Association, Downeast Lobstermen’s Association, Southern Maine Lobstermen’s Association, and others. We collectively submitted comments raising concern over NMFS’s draft Biological Opinion. We are working together to counter whale measures and offshore wind development because these issues will hurt all of Maine’s fishing industry and our communities, not just lobstermen.
This work is difficult. We do not agree on every detail. Voices get raised. But when we hit areas of disagreement, we collectively take a step back to focus on common ground. Then we move forward. And we do not stop.
If Maine’s fishing communities succumb to old habits and stop working together, I can assure you the environmental groups and the multi-national energy companies will exploit this weakness in a flash. We will NOT survive unless we work together. We must put our egos aside and focus on ensuring a future for Maine’s fishermen.
The future will be uncomfortable for everyone. We must agree to let go of our old grudges, let go of what each of us as individuals believes is the best way for the lobster industry to operate and get ready for some very uncomfortable conversations. We must be vigilant in remembering those things that unite us and stop arguing over those things that divide us.
“Together we stand, divided we fall” will be a self-fulfilling prophecy if we can’t pull together. I would guess that not one of you reading this today wants to see lobster boats disappear from harbors, wharves fall into ruin, and your sons and daughters living far from their childhood homes. It’s a picture that can become reality in ten short years. So please, find ways to unite in order to ensure a future for all Maine’s fishermen.
As always, stay safe on the water.