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Coastal Outlook: Thoughts from MLCA President Patrice McCarron

Welcome to the merry month of May! It’s been a long winter and a cold spring leading, finally, to the pleasure of Maine’s summer and a new season of lobster fishing.

This month in Landings we take a closer look at the 2017 lobster landings for the state. It’s clear that lobster stocks remain robust in the eastern counties, continuing a steady shift from the west to the east portions of the coast begun many years ago. Stonington remains the highest value port in the state, due to high lobster landings in the Downeast region. The reliance on one species, however, continues to worry some fishermen, although sublegal lobsters remain prolific, according to Department of Marine Resources data.

Landings also begins a series of interviews with Maine lobstermen focusing on the traditions of the fishery and the continuity between generations. Fishing is an occupation that calls for seamanship skills and an extraordinary understanding of a particular patch of ocean. That understanding begins for many lobstermen when they are children and is increased bit-by-bit over many years. Fishermen of many generations share their knowledge within families or, occasionally, outside the family in a process that is truly uncommon in the world today. We highlight that continuity of tradition in our new series.

The plight of the North Atlantic right whale continues to be in the news in 2018. Seventeen right whales died during 2017, 12 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. As a consequence, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is facing two court cases brought by environmental groups who argue that the agency is not doing enough under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act to protect the endangered whales. New England lobstermen are concerned that the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (ALWTRT) may alter its whale protection plan to require lobstermen to begin ropeless fishing or make other radical changes to their fishing practices.

Landings also reviews a California research scientist’s recently published paper that examines the connection between the right whales’ shift to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and a change in the availability of their preferred food, a small copepod, due to a warming Gulf of Maine.

Other species have moved into the Gulf as its temperature has risen. Black sea bass, once found only below Cape Cod, are now turning up in Maine fishermen’s catches. The fish, which are commercially valuable, present a possible new fishery for the state. However, they also are known to be voracious predators of juvenile lobsters. Could this new resident of the Gulf pose a problem for Maine’s lobster population?

Swan’s Island lobstermen aren’t too concerned with black sea bass. There the principal catch remains lobster, and many of those lobsters come across the dock of the Swan’s Island Fishermen’s Co-op. The Co-op is managed by Kathy Clark, the focus of this month’s People of the Coast interview. Clark brings a level head and an open mind to the high-pressure job of manager. “Sometimes the thing you least expect to do is the one you like the most,” she explains.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association health insurance Navigator Bridget Thornton provides an overview of ways to get health care when you don’t have insurance. Maine is fortunate to have a network of health clinics that see people who have no health insurance or inadequate health insurance. The clinics provide treatment either for free or at a sliding scale based on income. Such clinics may be the only route for some Maine residents to gain treatment if they do not have health insurance.

We also have an update on the Eastern Maine Skippers Program. This educational program, organized by the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington, helps high school students from fishing families complete their education through learning about Maine’s marine resources and management. Currently eight high schools in Downeast Maine are part of the program, with more than 100 students participating. This year their topic was “How can individuals and communities manage and restore local fisheries?” The public is invited to hear about the results at the program’s final presentations on May 24 at The Grand in Ellsworth.

Finally, Landings presents the work of Richmond artist Matt Barter. Barter is a self-taught painter who grew up in Bar Harbor and learned his craft from his father, the artist Philip Barter. He worked as a sternman in South Gouldsboro for a few years before focusing on his art. His colorful oil paintings reflect the world that he sees around him, a world full of boats, bait sheds, fish and ever-present sea gulls. One of his paintings now hangs in Sen. Angus King’s office in Washington, D.C. We hope you enjoy a glimpse of this Maine artist’s work.

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