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Steaming Ahead | December 2023

"How is it already December?” is heard so frequently this time of year, as if time is accelerating. As the new year approaches, we’re bombarded with articles and year-end messages that summarize our experiences, from the music we listened to, to the shows we watched. It’s a familiar cycle that repeats year after year.

The Leigh Farnsworth family. C. Clegg photo

When I set out to write this month’s column, I looked back at Landings summaries from years passed to get a sense of what has happened. In recent years, lobstermen’s concerns spoke to an overwhelming feeling of dread, like last year when the fate of the industry was unknown. A scary and stressful place to be as you haul traps out for the season wondering if this could be your last time.

Thankfully, this year we know that you will have a winter season. You will have a spring and summer one too. But it is far less certain to be the same five years from now. All the while you continue lobstering, the MLA will continue supporting its members. We will fight to hold the government accountable and prevent over-regulation of our industry by continuing to demand that up-to-date science and unbiased assumptions are used for the next Biological Opinion, due in 2028. We will continue to work to prevent giant corporations from industrializing the Gulf of Maine for wind energy farms as well.

So instead of a recap of all the MLA has done in 2023, I want to remind you of how much you and the generations before you have done. Lobstermen were the original environmentalists before that became a trendy thing to be. It was lobstermen who began V-notching egged females in order to protect them and provide a catch for future generations of lobstermen. It was lobstermen who demanded prohibitions on landing dragger-caught lobster, protecting the population from being overfished. It was lobstermen who pushed to make sure lobstering in Maine remained an owner-operator fishery, keeping large fishing corporations out of the state and ensuring our stewardship practices continue.

As responsible fishermen, you safeguard marine life and protect the Gulf of Maine every day. By recycling plastic bait bags and general packaging, you prevent them from floating in the water or littering our shores. Some of you have even gone the extra mile by upgrading engines or adjusting hauling schedules to reduce the frequency of trips, further minimizing negative impacts on the environment.

Every little bit counts. It’s inspiring to see some individuals leading by example, almost unconsciously. Maine’s sustainable lobster fishery requires a lot more than just common sense, however. It has taken years of persistent effort to establish great habits and set standards that are so ordinary they go unnoticed.

What if you broke that legacy? What if you stopped fishing in your grandfather’s footsteps? Caught the eggers, trashed the ocean, landed the small ones? You would be destroying the future.

That’s what the MLA does — protects the fishery for the future. As we go “steaming ahead” into 2024, we need to revisit and affirm our priorities, our partnerships, and our future goals.

We have done mighty things this past year. The Omnibus bill of 2022 that kept you fishing was no small feat. Patrice McCarron, MLA policy director, worked on it around the clock with DMR and Maine’s Congressional delegation. Our historic court case against NMFS and its draconian whale protection measures literally saved Maine’s lobster fishery from being erased. Our efforts to protect LMA 1 from industrial wind farms are proving successful also.

To do all this, the MLA must have a robust membership. Truly, we must stand together or we will fall as individuals. Keeping the Maine lobster fishery afloat cannot be accomplished by one guy in a meeting. It can only be done through the concerted efforts of all lobstermen, standing as one, speaking loudly and clearly to the centers of power. That is the only way to ensure you can build your business and that the next generation can be on the water too.

Let’s not forget the legacy we carry but also, let’s not forget that we define the legacy we leave in our wake. What will yours be?

If you asked someone why they became a member of the MLA, they may say it’s because they fish. Some may say it’s because someone in their family was always a member. Some may talk about the legislation and programs the MLA put in place during our 70 years. If you asked me, I would say because no one can do it alone. The MLA has been there for your grandfather, your father, for you, and we will be there for your children.

May you have a magical holiday. We’ll see you in the new year, head down and steadfast, ready to get to work.


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