The lobster industry has endured its share of hardships and obstacles over the past decade. We’ve been hit by never-ending gear modifications, low lobster prices and high expenses, mandatory reporting, and coming soon, vessel trackers in federal waters. All of these things would make a normal person just throw their hands in the air and call it quits. But obviously we aren’t normal people, we are lobstermen! (And to all female lobster catchers I still say “lobstermen.”)
No one ever accused Maine lobstermen of being financial geniuses, but we somehow make a living despite all the challenges we face. The question is, why do we do it? In my experience there is only one answer, because we friggin’ love it!
We love getting up with sore backs and bitching about every topic under the sun on the VHF on the steam out. We love worrying about what some other guy is catching and where he’s catching them. We also love trying to hide what we are catching from everyone else. But most of all we love the independence of this way of life.
We have the ability to go in the morning or stay home if there is a little Southwest breeze. You can fish wide open with a couple guys behind you or go by yourself at a little slower pace. The way you choose to fish usually correlates to the amount of gray in your hair. One thing is for sure — there is no “typical” lobsterman.
We all hate it when pieces of that independence are taken away. Who wants to get tracked all day and report where you fished and tell the government how much you caught? Or when you can’t fish that bottom you’ve always fished because now the government says you have to fish a 25-trap trawl there.
It’s in our DNA to always fight like hell against any chipping away of our way of life; sometimes we lose a battle but each one of us will just keep fighting on. One thing I know is that lobstermen are good at gritting our teeth and figuring it out. We always have, and we always will.
That’s what the MLA is good at too. We have been in the business of protecting lobstermen and lobster fishing since 1954. Think about that: next year the MLA will celebrate its 70th anniversary! What other organization in the state (or country) has been around for 70 years working on behalf of fishermen?
Our recent success in the Washington D.C. appeals court is a major win for the fishery, not only here in Maine but throughout New England and the nation. And it is just one victory among many in the history of the MLA.
Think about Les Dyer of Vinalhaven all those years ago, motoring up and down the coast in 1954 to organize a bunch of cranky lobstermen into an association, then being hauled into court for alleged price fixing.
Some of you may remember Ossie Beal, the MLA’s president during the 1960’s. Ossie made sure that an oil refinery with the potential to wipe out Downeast lobster stocks was not built in Machiasport, standing up to legendary Senator Edmund Muskie at a hearing in 1970. “It’s unbelievable that public servants selected for ability, wisdom, and vision can be so shortsighted, so unwise, as to pronounce the death of the coast of Maine. This is certainly a case of selling your birthright, and that of others, for a mess of pottage,” he declared at the hearing.
MLA president Eddie Blackmore from Stonington fought the IRS on behalf of lobstermen. He worked with Maine’s Congressional delegation to get the Tax Reform Act of 1976 passed, which categorized sternmen as independent contractors, keeping captains from having to withhold federal taxes. He also led the long-standing battle against landing dragger-caught lobsters in Maine.
MLA president Dave Cousens and executive director Pat White perfected the good cop bad cop strategy to continue the battle against landing dragger-caught lobster in Maine, squelch efforts to get rid of our oversize measure and keep the states, rather than the feds, in charge of managing the lobster resource.
And everyone knows that Patrice McCarron has been an aggressive and determined advocate for lobstermen during the endless years of right whale battles with NMFS.
I’m not saying that without the MLA we’d all be on the beach now. But we sure as hell would not be what we are today — a sustainable fishery, admired around the world, run by individual lobstermen, who make a decent living and are leaving something for their children to continue into the future.