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Maine's Youngest Step Up to Support Lobster Fishery's Future

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) court case has elicited a true groundswell of support from within the state’s lobstering community. From John and Brendan Ready’s $200,000 contribution this year to local lobster co-operatives, donations to the MLA’s Save Maine Lobstermen campaign have bolstered the association’s strong legal attack on the fundamentally flawed ten-year whale conservation plan mandated by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Yet it’s not just the money that has made the difference. It’s also the outflow of encouragement the funding represents. The fact that so many people want to see the MLA’s case succeed reflects bedrock values of Maine lobstermen, values of family, constancy, and pride.

On Vinalhaven, high school teacher James LePage decided to make the conflict between the federal government’s whale regulations and the Maine lobster fishery the focus of his 2021-2022 Civics and Economics class. “We looked at civic and economic issues through the lens of an industry closely tied with all of our students’ lives and families, the lobster industry,” he explained in an email. “As we tackled the nuances of the U.S. government and different economic issues, we tied those ideas to how they affect the industry, as well as current issues threatening the Vinalhaven way of life.”

Vinalhaven came out in force in June to support students' fundraising for the MLA's Save Maine Lobstermen campaign. J. LePage photo.

Lobstering is the mainstay of the island, whose year-round population is approximately 1,200 people. Vinalhaven has steadily ranked second among Maine’s ports in terms of the value of species landed there, which in 2021 was more than $55 million. Any changes in the fishery will have a deep impact on the island.

LePage’s students created a podcast to talk about issues relating to federalism. In federalism, political power is divided between states or provinces and a national government. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution articulates federalism in the United States: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

The students looked at the new whale regulations through the lens of federalism. Students interviewed state representative and lobsterman Genevieve McDonald of Stonington and Barbara Skapa, the executive director of the group Mainers Guarding Right Whales. Through the podcast, students became more and more aware of the threat the Maine lobstering industry is facing.

The final class project was to choose a local issue threatening Vinalhaven and start a fundraising effort to create positive change. “At the outset of the year, I had no idea which direction this project would take. Obviously, there are many issues which could have taken hold, yet by April it was clear the threat facing the Maine lobster fishery was paramount,” LePage said.

Through coin drives, a raffle ticket fundraiser, and a cornhole tournament in June, the students raised over $1,800. Later that month, LePage presented a check for that amount to MLA executive director Patrice McCarron at an event on the island.

Other young people have made clear their support of the MLA’s efforts as well. Ed Foye of Eliot and his children received reimbursement checks in July for the cost of their lobster licenses and trap tags this year. Foye had been following the chatter on the Facebook page “All Things Lobstering” where lobstermen were suggesting that reimbursement checks be sent to the MLA. “I got mine and then the kids got theirs. We talked about it and decided to donate,” Foye said.

His children are the fifth generation in the family to be fishermen and they know what it means to work hard for their money. Owen Foye, 24, bought his late grandfather George’s boat after long years as a sternman. Larsen, 21, works with his father and is saving money to buy his own boat but sent in his reimbursement check anyway. Daughter Raegan, 19, hauls her 120 traps from an 18-foot skiff, works as a third man on another lobster boat and builds traps for other lobstermen in town.

“I’m impressed with how the court case is going,” Ed Foye said. “I think the MLA’s getting some real facts out. We’ve got to pool our money together to stop this crap.”

From Machias to Kittery, lobstermen are pulling together to ensure that what is so valuable to them and was to their forebears remains accessible to their children and to their children’s children: a sustainable, robust lobster fishery. Our deepest thanks to all of you!


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