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Coastal Outlook: Thoughts from MLCA President Patrice McCarron

Welcome to the end of 2017! While the final numbers are not in yet, this year will certainly mark a downturn from the recent trend of seemingly endless increases in lobster landings and price. Lobstermen have been frustrated to see prices weak compared to 2016 values given the slow pace of landings. While the factors affecting price are poorly understood, the Canada-European Union Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in September, has made Maine lobster more expensive than Canadian lobster in European countries, contributing to dampening of the price paid to Maine lobstermen. But, as an editorial by John Sackton, publisher of, reprinted in this issue of Landings points out, now is not the time to slack off on efforts to market Maine lobster in this country and abroad. The efforts of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, established in 2013, are strengthening recognition of Maine lobster as a distinctive food item and, as Sackton notes, cutting off funding for these efforts would be shortsighted. Landings also chronicles the history of the Collaborative since its inception and its specific focus on celebrity chefs and food media outlets to build demand for Maine new-shell lobster. Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, weighs in with his take on the Collaborative’s successes since it was established less than five years ago. We also hear from Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Commissioner Patrick Keliher on activities taking place within his department in 2017. A new law strengthening the punishments for serious violations of lobster fishing laws, such as fishing more traps than allowed or scraping eggs from a female lobster, went into effect in June. Keliher believes that law has been effective in making the consequences of illegal fishing greater than the economic benefits. On a lighter note, Landings also features a visit by Alaskan artist Ray Troll to Vinalhaven. Troll, whose quirky images of fish and fishermen have a cult following, was invited by residents Mike Mesko and Steve Rosen to give a talk on the island. Troll also spent time with children at the Vinalhaven School, showing them the delight still felt by a man who has spent his life “drawing fish and dinosaurs” for a living. South Bristol jeweler Tenley Seiders spends her time, when she’s not caring for her two young children or helping her lobsterman husband on his boat, also making things of beauty. Seiders converts lobster shells, as well as mussel and oyster shells, into translucent pieces of fine jewelry in the form of pendants, earrings, and pins. By combining materials used in fishing, such as the FilterRay preservative used on lobster buoys, Seiders makes truly one-of-a-kind pieces that link the wearer to the lobstering world. Landings continues its People of the Coast series with a profile of the women who run Jess’s Fish Market in Rockland. The small market was founded in 1986 by Sharon O’Brien and her former husband Jess Wiggin as a small breakfast and lunch shop. They quickly realized that what locals were looking for was fresh, locally-sourced seafood. But over time, that demand changed as more “people from away” moved to the area and Rockland’s dining options expanded in scope and quality. Now the market, run by O’Brien and her three daughters, provides retail and wholesale fish and seafood products from around the world to its customers while also managing to ship fresh lobsters throughout the country. Meanwhile, on the West Coast of the country, Maine Lobstermen’s Association director Patrice McCarron and state and federal colleagues took part in a conference on a topic of increasing importance in the Gulf of Maine — ecological tipping points. Tipping points are moments at which an ecological system, such the Gulf, moves irrevocably into a new state. The transformation occurs due to human activities as well as environmental changes, such as increasing temperatures in the world’s oceans. Researchers are concerned that the Gulf of Maine might reach such a tipping point, making the lobster population and the communities that rely on it increasingly vulnerable. Cody Stewart of Yarmouth is the subject of this month’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum scholarship recipient profile. Stewart graduated from high school in 2014 and instead of continuing to lobster, he took time to pursue a marine mechanics degree at a school in Orlando, Florida with Forum scholarship assistance. He returned from the one-year program to lobster in Casco Bay but, as he notes in the article, “It gave me the confidence to know I can finish what I start even if I am having a hard time.” Finally, we reprint a 1933 letter from the Commissioner of Sea and Shore Fisheries (the precursor of today’s DMR) to Maine lobstermen suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. Horatio Crie, of Castine, was a staunch supporter of Maine’s fishermen during his 17-year tenure as head of the agency. In his letter addressed to “Brother Fishermen,” Crie said, “Previous to the slump in the price of lobsters we had built up a fleet of expensive boats with high powered engines that cost dollars to operate. Now we find ourselves confronted with a condition hard to overcome because the lobster business will pay little more than operating expenses … There is one phase of the situation that we must all take into consideration and that is to preserve our fisheries. If we destroy our lobsters by lawless methods of selling undersized lobsters…we are killing the goose that laid the golden egg….” Who said that history often repeats itself? We hope you enjoy this issue of Landings and welcome your thoughts on future stories.


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