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Steaming Ahead | August 2021

“We must all indeed hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” Benjamin Franklin’s words have never been more apt for Maine’s lobster industry than today. Environmental groups would like nothing better than to see our industry divided against itself while they cast us as villains determined to harm endangered right whales. But the MLA and its members have never been afraid of a fight. MLA is working relentlessly to make sure that you are not the last generation of lobstermen in this state.

To say that the past few years have been a challenge does not begin to reflect the stress and anxiety we have all grappled with. Yet we must press forward and tackle head on the challenges that threaten to erase our fishery: NMFS’s mandated 98% reduction of risk to right whales by 2030 and the growing foothold of offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. The significance of these issues makes clear the importance of lobstermen working together through a strong MLA.

We are in this battle together, and for good reason - so that the next generation can make their livings on the water. M. Coombs Photo

The MLA’s track record is impressive. Since 1954, the MLA has been in the forefront of every issue affecting Maine’s lobstermen. From day one, MLA president Les Dyer fought for fair pricing and helped members get health and boat insurance plans that they could afford. Ossie Beal then led the fight against construction of oil refineries in Downeast Maine and against landing lobsters caught by draggers in Maine, a fight that the MLA continues to battle each time it rears its ugly head.

By the 1970s Ed Blackmore had stepped in as MLA president to wrangle with the Internal Revenue Service on behalf of Maine lobstermen. Ed fought a contentious battle over several years to keep lobstermen from paying costly payroll taxes on their sternmen, an expense that most simply could not afford. Ed won that fight; in the current U.S. tax code sternmen are classified as self-employed contractors.

When it became apparent that the New England Fisheries Management Council was not the right entity to manage Maine’s largely state-based lobster fishery, MLA executive director Pat White and president David Cousens joined forces with Maine’s Congressional delegation to get management authority moved to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. It was through this process that Maine was able to expand its lobster conservation measures to New Hampshire and Massachusetts and out to 40 miles from shore, thus keeping Shafmaster boats from sitting on the 3-mile line and catching Maine’s oversized and V-notched lobster.

After 67 years, there is no organization with more experience or a deeper understanding of the threats facing our industry than the MLA. As the oldest, largest and most experienced fishing industry organization in Maine, the MLA has never been afraid to tackle any issue that could harm Maine’s lobstermen or the lobster resource. We are always at the forefront, making sure our members’ voices and the interests of Maine’s lobstering communities are heard.

And we understand our members. The MLA respects the survival-of-the-fittest ethic that pervades our industry and how to balance that with the need to maintain a vibrant and profitable lobster fishery to keep our coastal communities alive and preserve economic opportunity for our children. It is not the MLA’s job to tell lobstermen how to run their businesses or to have any part in micromanaging how they fish. Rather, the MLA’s job is to fulfill its mission to advocate for a sustainable lobster resource and the fishermen and communities that depend on it. Given the scope and depth of the issues facing the Maine lobster industry today, fulfilling our mission is more important than ever.

No lobsterman in this state will be untouched by the extreme challenges that most could not have envisioned just a few short years ago. Under the leadership of MLA’s President Kristan Porter, the MLA has shifted gears and stepped up our game in a big way. With broad support from the lobster industry and others for our Legal Defense Fund, the MLA has hired a top-notch legal team to elevate the voice and credibility of Maine lobstermen. We have transitioned from reacting and responding to the issues as they unfold to getting ahead of them so that we can develop solutions that are truly workable for Maine lobstermen.

The MLA is standing up in court to dispute the false accusations of deep-pocketed environmental organizations against the lobster fishery. We are demanding NMFS base its regulatory decisions to reduce entanglement risk on sound science, not biased assumptions. And the MLA is challenging NMFS’s overly pessimistic view of the right whale population and its misguided policy of holding the lobster fishery responsible for right whale deaths known to happen outside our waters. These issues are daunting and the lobster industry must work together if we hope to save our industry.

Our way of life is under threat. The MLA needs your help to continue the fight. Our voice is only as strong as our members’ voices.

We’ve been here since 1954 and with your support we will continue to be here, protecting your future. Please help us by renewing your MLA membership and by making a 2021 donation to the Legal Defense Fund.

Thank you for your continued support. And as always, stay safe on the water.

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