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Guest Column: From a Fishing Family's Point of View

First published in longer format in National Fisherman

As my dad steams around the west side of Long Island, Maine on the F/V Carl & Co, I sit on the bow in the same spot I have claimed since he bought the boat when I was about four years old. Each lobstering season has always looked different for my dad; I always fear the new issues he must face.

Though the stress doesn’t seem like it would be worth it from the outside looking in, I know that my dad would never choose a different way of life, and I don’t say that lightly. Most people have careers that have been strictly built to support their family financially, but for our family life has always revolved around fishing. Like many families that have been on this tiny island for generations, we continue to face the uncertainty of the Maine lobster fishery’s future.

Carli Stewart is content producer at National Fisherman and daughter of a Long Island lobsterman.

I have always seen firsthand the stewards that make up this industrious community. The traditions of this lifestyle have persisted in my brother and me. Fishing is so much more than just a strong work ethic and catching fish — it’s a way of life. I chose the path of being an advocate for fishing families while my brother, Cody, became a fisherman. Cody fishes on his own boat F/V One More, on and offshore the coast of Maine, and holds a permit for the Northern Gulf of Maine Scallop season. Both my dad and brother started fishing out of rowboat punts at the age of eight, hand hauling their lobster traps close enough to shore that there were always eyes on them if something went wrong. Both of us were inspired by the different aspects of what our father did on and off the water. For generations, our family has shown each other the ins and outs of this industry because it’s always been what they loved.

I always knew I wanted to share my unique experience of growing up in this community. After taking the position with National Fisherman and connecting with other fishing families, I am motivated to unify this heritage among all coasts. My dad has always advocated and given back to the fisheries that have granted our family a serendipitous way of life, even throughout the toughest seasons. Other than gear work and boat maintenance, our dad’s onshore hours were spent as a board member for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA).

Over the past months, I have connected with Ashley Green, a fisherman’s wife and commercial fishing industry professional. She shared with me her family’s fear of the southeast king salmon troll fishery closure. We further discussed the heartache of the commercial fishing community in Alaska and how harvesters within the salmon troll fishery are small business owners who run a single vessel to provide for their family, which is just the same as Maine lobstermen.

Writing for National Fisherman has shown me the tunnel vision effect common to fishing families regarding their own fishery. I cannot say I blame us when we are constantly bearing the weight of heavy labor jobs and also constantly changing regulations and some terrible seasons. We forget what is happening on the other coasts, and this is something that we cannot keep ignoring.

Year after year, I watched the anguish in my father’s face as more regulations were put into place for one of the most sustainable fisheries in our country. Since the 1850s, Maine lobstermen have ensured self-regulation within their fishery to further create sustainability for the sake of the stock and the ability to see their kids become lobstermen as well. Maine lobster fishermen have persisted through many waves of change: they’ve altered their gear to help protect the endangered right whales, they have stayed involved in conservation efforts to make sure the fishery remains viable, and they have fought the federal government to save this critical Maine industry.

With regulations and legal suits involving the endangered right whale, Maine lobstermen fear the same outcome as Alaska troll fishermen.

“We have been blamed for endangering a species that has never had a death involving Maine lobster gear and has had no entanglement in almost two decades. I understand the importance of keeping these mammals safe, but it isn’t fair to be facing regulation after regulation for an industry that has done all we can to self-regulate and ensure we are fishing as safely as possible,” my dad explained.

“What’s happening in Alaska could very well happen to us at any moment, and it’s terrifying that is the reality we are living in. I have always pushed for sustainability because I want my children to have this opportunity to share this way of life like I had,” he said. “To have both of my kids in the fishing industry is all I’ve wanted, and they have shown that they care about this community as much as myself. We have so many more battles and regulations to face in our industry, but to see us all persevering together is rewarding. Fishing communities up and down the coast are in this together.”

Being an advocate for this all-encompassing way of life is all I’ve ever wanted. Knowing that we are in this as a family makes it a no-brainer to help tell other fishing families’ stories.

NOTE: In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit paused the district court ruling on the salmon fishery. The Appeals Court decision allowed the Southeast Alaska salmon troll fishery to open this summer.

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