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Maine Lobstermen's Association Celebrates 70 Years of Advocacy

For more than 70 years, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) has shaped the fishery that lobstermen make their living from today. Not only is the association strong at 70 but also the fishery is one of the healthiest community fisheries in the world. This success is worth celebrating.


MLA directors at 1982 meeting, left to right:

Ed Blackmore, Daniel Escalera, Thomas Bartlett, Bob McDonough, John Makowsky, John Macduff.

From the National Fisherman collection at the Penobscot Marine Museum.

Seventy years of showing up. Speaking up. Standing up for what the MLA felt was best for the whole industry and for lobstering communities.


“Lobstering exists for big boats, small boats, tiny boats, elderly, kids. We are using traditional gear; we have a viable business model and a diverse fleet that can support our rural communities. That is everything,” said Patrice McCarron, MLA’s policy director.


Without the MLA, lobstering in Maine today would be quite different. Here is a quick look at just some of the association’s accomplishments:

No oil refinery in Eastport: Led by Jonesport lobsterman Ossie Beal (President 1967-1974), the MLA successfully opposed the Pittston Oil Refinery proposal in 1973, convincing the powerful Maine Senator Edmund Muskie with the fishermen’s knowledge of tidal currents and passion for preserving the fishing opportunities in eastern Maine.


Crewmen are self-employed: Without the MLA, lobstermen would be withholding income tax for sternmen, paying the 7.5% employer’s share of Social Security tax plus federal unemployment insurance. In the early 1970s, a coastwide Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit called the Sternman Project targeted lobstermen, resulting in large fines and boat seizures. Stonington lobsterman Ed Blackmore (President 1974-1991) led the MLA in a 12-year fight which eventually ended up in Congress. Three federal and state laws later, the independent status of sternmen is now recognized.


V-notch and oversize measure: Without the MLA, neither would be recognized in federal waters outside three miles, or by other states. After the Magnuson Act put the 200-mile limit into effect in 1977, Blackmore and association members coastwide fought for 20 years to get recognition for V-notch and the oversize measure as conservation practices. They bucked the adamant opposition of state and federal scientists, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) managers, and lobstermen from other states. The MLA worked this issue first in the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) and later in the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). “I always believed that if they said we were part of the problem, then we were going to be part of the solution,” Ed Blackmore said at the time.


Lobster science as we know it today: In the 1990s, York lobsterman Pat White (Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer 1992-2010) and South Thomaston lobsterman David Cousens (President 1991-2018) made an unprecedented decision to have the MLA start working with scientists. This cooperation turned around lobster management science, shifting federal stock assessments from a numerical approach to a more biological approach. The MLA’s work with University of Maine scientists and others led state and federal managers to embrace V-notching and the oversize measure, and to use a new stock assessment approach. The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) current research program now works with lobstermen to monitor all life stages of lobster, including using the ventless trap survey and the Lobster Settlement Index.


Owner-operator: As Cutler lobsterman Kristan Porter (President 2018-present) said, “Owner-operator is the key to making sure each lobsterman has a stake in it, and making sure that the fishery is not taken over by big business.” All licensed lobstermen in Maine are individual owners and operators of their fishing business, a fact mandated by law in 1995 as the state moved to trap limits and apprenticeship-based entry. It has provided the backbone for Maine’s resilient, independent coastal fishery ever since and prevented what would likely have been corporate, consolidated lobstering when lobster abundance skyrocketed.


Announcement of the organizational meeting for the Maine Lobstermen's Association

in the Rockland Courier-Gazette, Sept. 28, 1954.


Apprenticeship-based entry and in-out ratios: Until 1995, there was no limited entry in lobstering. Changing that was difficult for the state. The MLA supported capping participation and allowing entry through apprenticeship as a way to keep fishing communities vibrant and avoid consolidation. The MLA later was instrumental in shaping the law that gives lobster zone councils the right to set exit-entry entry ratios.


Trap limits and zones: Trap numbers were escalating in the 1990s, up well over 2,000 for some fishermen. The MLA was part of comprehensive negotiations in the Maine legislature to pass a trap limit paired with controls on entry. This included creating seven lobster management zones and giving lobstermen the power to lower trap limits below the state cap in each zone, which Zone E has done.


No lobsters on draggers: Although it became a Maine law in 1967, once federal management of lobster started after the 200-mile limit law in 1976, it took more than 25 years to restrict this in federal waters. The MLA was instrumental in working with Senator Snowe to set federal limits to the number of lobsters allowed by draggers as bycatch.


Whales: For the entire time Patrice McCarron (Associate Director 2000-2001, Executive Director 2001-2023, Policy Director 2023-current) has been part of the MLA, the association’s top priority has been to preserve the fishery while achieving whale protection.


The MLA has been a part of the federal multi-party Take Reduction Team process since its inception in 1997 but that did not prevent the association from assembling a top-quality team of lawyers and scientists to challenge the science and methods that NMFS used in its Biological Opinion in court. In June 2023, MLA won an astonishing victory in its appeal case that set a precedent requiring the federal government to base its decisions on scenarios that are based in reality and can no longer assume the worst about how fishermen will impact a species.


Offshore Wind: The MLA opposes offshore wind development and is seeking to exclude any leases from Lobster Management Area 1. Fueled by money, political power, and the imperatives of climate change, offshore wind development presents the MLA with a major challenge that will last decades.


MLA staff and board members are participating in the advisory process for both the state’s planned research array off southern Maine and the federal leasing process for the Gulf of Maine. MLA represents fishermen on the Maine Climate Council. The association is a member of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a fishing industry alliance opposed to offshore wind development. The MLA has already scored one major win, when in November 2023 the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management excluded more than 90% of Lobster Management Area 1 from their lease call area.


“We are actually fighting two fronts: to make sure that the lobster fishery is good and there is an economic future for lobstermen, in addition to tackling issues like whales and wind,” said Kristan Porter, President 2018-present.

“The MLA matters,” said McCarron. “It means that for young lobstermen you can stay in Maine, do something you love, and raise a family.”


Letter to the Portland Press Herald editor against draggers catching lobsters,

by MLA president Leslie Dyer, July 12, 1955.


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