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Steaming Ahead - April 2023

We all know that lobstermen are creatures of habit and change comes pretty hard. We use the same size traps with the same heads and same color and same brand wire…. until we realize that others are doing better with something else and then reluctantly try it.

Perhaps you go to haul by yourself for years because that’s the way you’ve always done it. You don’t think a sternman could make you any more money and where would you find anyone worth a damn anyway? Then you finally break down and take someone because your bones ache and you are trawling up now where before you always fished singles. Then you think, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”

Like you, the MLA is changing the way it operates. S. Whitney photo.

That is the situation MLA has found itself in over the past few years. We’ve all been going about our fishing and depending on our small staff to “just get it done,” even though the work just keeps getting piled on. As the stakes got higher, the MLA board made a bold decision to play offense instead of defense in the whale battle. This decision was definitely the right one but it has been a heavy lift for our small staff and it has taken its toll on the organization. Plus the issues we are now battling are not going away anytime soon.

Every one of us in the lobster industry has felt the stress and the weight of the past few years. The MLA board has put in a lot of hours, and the MLA staff has been grinding through just trying to stay on top of everything. Not only is there more work to do, but the issues we are grappling with are extremely complicated. And the stakes are high: we know that we are not only on the cusp of seeing lobstermen start to fall out of the business, but also we may actually lose our fishery. The MLA cannot tackle these issues without our talented legal team and outside help from consultants. So on top of everything else, we can’t even be in this game unless we continue to raise money.

There is no doubt that it is time to bring in some reinforcements.

Everyone knows Patrice. She has been at the helm of the MLA for 23 years, and she is still there, guiding us through some pretty treacherous policy waters, keeping a sharp eye out for regulatory and legal threats facing the Maine lobster fishery. There are plenty. We are up against both the federal government and well-funded environmental groups pushing to save right whales no matter what the cost — including putting us out of business in 2030. And they don’t seem to care that the whales are not dying from Maine fishing gear.

We are also looking at a gold rush in the Gulf of Maine for large corporations eyeing massive tracts of the ocean to erect industrial wind farms with turbines the size of the Eiffel Tower. And who doesn’t lose sleep at night over the ongoing cost issues, problems with bait, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission regulations, all on top of the usual crap lobstermen have to deal with.

For MLA, hiring a Chief Operating Officer was really a no-brainer. As a lobsterman, I know a little about keeping my business going. I have to pay attention to making sure the boat is sound, that my equipment works, that I don’t pay too much for bait or fuel, that I look after all the things that keep me and my crew safe at sea – and let’s not forget – that I still have a little money in my pocket at the end of the year. That’s exactly what our new COO, Amber-Jean Nickel, will be doing. Her job is to ensure that the MLA, as an organization, can continue to do what it does best — stand up for its members wherever and whenever. She will make sure the bills are paid, that the staff is working efficiently, that the MLA is ready for an ever more complicated future so that MLA’s voice remains strong and powerful at the state, regional and federal levels.

The board feels really good about this change. We have done so much with so little for way too long that it’s a relief to be able to add another skilled professional to the MLA team. It’s like making a major investment in your fishing business — you are nervous about making the change but in the end you usually wonder why you waited so long.

The lobstering world is no longer a stable, predictable space. It is changing whether we like it or not. I can assure you that the MLA will continue to evolve so that we become even stronger as we navigate this complicated future. The MLA knows what is at stake and just how much we have to lose. I promise you that the board will continue to guide the organization through these changes and we will not forget why we are here. We are here for you, our members.

Thank you for all of your support!

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