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Guest Column: What will the coast feel like if lobstering is gone?

What would the coast of Maine look like without the lobster fishery? The answer is not going to be short. Just to be sure all readers are up to speed, the Maine lobster fishery is under attack. Specifically, it is being forced to pony up millions of dollars to defend its very existence against an arbitrary number, the number Zero.

The importance of the lobster fishery to the character of Maine's coast cannot be understated. What will be left if the lobstermen are gone? Island Institute photo.

The North Atlantic right whale population is in trouble. After years of whaling, the population sank. Right now the whale is considered endangered under federal law. The number of right whales that can be harmed by human activities is effectively Zero.

Facing multiple lawsuits, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has insisted that the Northeast lobster industry reduce its RISK of whale entanglements by 98% by 2030.

Here’s the rub. During the past 20 years, ever since the Maine lobster fishery was forced to make gear modifications to reduce risk to right whales, there have been no mortalities associated with Maine lobster gear.

The environmental groups are giving lobstermen both barrels, but what is really going on? The shipping industry, which is responsible for multiple right whale deaths, just keeps chugging along. Worse than that, the international energy corporations promoting offshore wind farms actually have both NMFS’s and environmental organizations’ blessing to harass and harm marine mammals while testing the bottom for appropriate installation sites.

It doesn’t make sense to me.

The Maine Coastal Program estimates there’s maybe 25 miles of working waterfront left in Maine, most of it associated with the lobster fishery. Those places generate about $3 billion for Maine’s economy. That money moves into the local economy as lobstermen buy trucks, food, bait, equipment, pay property taxes and so forth.

Lots of towns, like Boothbay Harbor, Rockland, and York, were looking at waterfront properties flipping from commercial use to residential use even before all the COVID escapees moved to Maine. Now federal regulations are putting more pressure on lobstermen to get out of the fishery altogether and where will that leave the working waterfront?

What will the coast look like if lobstermen disappear? There will be lobsters, you can bet on that. But they will be the products of large corporations, not the product of our diverse fleet of independent fishermen. Here and there up the coast there will be ginormous lobster pounds with guarded gates. The Maine coast will be a wall of condominiums and McMansions stacked one upon another. Think about nearly any other coastal town around the country, all those other “once was” places. That’s what we are looking at in the future if the lobster fishery goes.

While writing, it occurred to me it might be good to open a kind of forum as far as what folks would miss most if the worst was to happen. Here’s what I already miss:

  1. The smell of a general store.

  2. A parking lot full of flatbed ½-ton pickups at daylight full of lobstermen trying to talk themselves in or out of going.

  3. Little wooden model fishing boats made by someone local for sale at restaurant gift shops.

  4. Salt cod in the soda cooler.

  5. That nice lobsterman from Southport who my father talked into taking us out to haul for a day when I was 6. You changed my life.

Jeff White fishes out of York Maine and is president of the York Lobstermen's Association.

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