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Guest Column: Hospitality Industry Must Act Now to #SaveMaineLobstermen

Stephanie Hawke is a former two-term state representative and small business owner in Boothbay Harbor. (Maia Zewert photo)

Maine’s lobster industry is in a fight for its life and it’s up to all of us to do what we can to help save it. We all know the problem. Under a court mandate, the lobster fishery is being forced to comply with strict new regulations intended to protect the endangered right whale. No Maine lobsterman would ever want to hurt a whale. But in this court fight, that fact does not matter. Nor does the fact that data show Maine’s lobster industry is not the greatest threat to the whale. No whale has ever been known to die in Maine gear. Instead, scientific research conducted by Bigelow Labs in Boothbay shows the whales are moving further and further away from area where Maine Lobstermen fish because their critical food source, the copepods, are moving out of the Gulf of Maine. This is luring the whales north and east into Canadian shipping lanes where they are being struck by ships.

So even after Maine lobstermen move heaven and earth to comply with all the changes that the federal government is imposing, the right whales will still be at risk of death and injury. It doesn’t make sense, but if the industry does not comply, the federal government will not license the fishery. That means it could be illegal for Maine’s lobstermen to operate within the next decade.

No one is working harder to sound the alarm and fight these senseless regulations than the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA). It would serve our state’s hospitality and tourism industries to listen, and act, now before it is too late because the fishery and these industries are critically connected. I attended the recent HospitalityMaine Expo in Portland and listened to MLA executive director Patrice McCarron outline the problem and the impact the loss of our lobster industry would have on our state and coastal communities.

Lobstering is a $1 billion business in Maine, supporting 10,000 jobs on the water and thousands more bait dealers, boat builders, and trap manufacturers. The loss of the fishery would extend beyond the immediate coast. Millions of tourists come to Maine to visit small coastal towns like Boothbay and to eat lobster. What would happen to our hotels, restaurants, seaside take-outs, gift shops, and to our coastal communities overall? The question is - what would Maine be without lobster?

This isn’t hypothetical. Due to these regulations, Maine’s lobster industry is on the brink of extinction and everyone who makes money off the supply chain needs to understand that they have a responsibility to step up and help in this fight. The MLA has filed a lawsuit and is raising money to help pay the extensive legal bills. It’s trying to raise $10 million in three years. As Patrice said, that is an overwhelming task, but we don’t have any choice.

Harvesters have stepped up to the challenge, so have some co-ops, dealers, processors, and other businesses. But it’s still not enough. If just 10,000 people or businesses that make money off the lobster industry gave just $1,000 each, the MLA would have the resources to fight, and to win. One thousand dollars seems like a small price to pay to ensure the lobster industry remains intact. The MLA must be able to stay in the courtroom because the government and the environmental groups want to drag this out until they think we can’t afford to fight anymore. I know we can prove them wrong because no one is more tenacious than Maine lobstermen.

Let’s work together to Save Maine Lobstermen before this important heritage is lost forever.

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