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Steaming Ahead | February 2024

We are fishing people. We’ve been through a lot. The Maine lobster fishery has been under siege for years now and its future remains uncertain. But we continue to land on our feet because despite our fierce independence, we are willing to work together when things get tough to save our fishing heritage. Maine is lucky to have a strong network of fishing associations, like the MLA, which come together as one when needed.

Maine's fishing organizations each have their own missions but when trouble comes,

they find ways to work together. B. Mullin photo.

Less than a year ago, the lobster industry was staring death in the face because of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s misguided whale regulations, but thanks to the MLA’s legal efforts and an Act of Congress, we have lived to see another day. Ocean industrialization disguised as offshore wind projects threatens our livelihood. Maine’s fishing industry worked together and it appears that we have largely dodged this bullet, with almost all of Lobster Management Area 1 (LMA 1) dropped from lease consideration.

We are now bracing for a gauge increase compliments of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to stabilize lobster stocks, but lobstermen remain concerned that there has not been adequate consideration of market impacts from this change. And ASMFC is also requiring federal vessels to carry trackers, leaving lobstermen with unanswered questions about why the government would violate their privacy and track them even when they are not fishing.

It is not just the policy arena that threatens the fishery. The lobster business itself is highly volatile. As small business owners, many lobstermen and lobster dealers have been pushed to the brink over the last few years. Continued instability in the supply chain and lobster markets leaves many working hard yet unsure if there will be a meaningful profit at the end of the year.

And now Mother Nature has taken a major swing at us. The devastating coastal storms in January created unprecedented and widespread damage to Maine’s working waterfront. So many individuals, businesses, coops, and towns lost buildings, docks and wharfs which must be rebuilt. The state quickly organized to survey the damage and work with towns, while fishing associations and non-profits worked together to get information out to those who suffered storm losses.

There is no doubt the stress of it all has taken its toll on many. Yet these threats and disasters also have a way of bringing people together. When there is so much on the line, people put their egos aside and work collaboratively to keep fishermen and businesses afloat.

The gravity of the issues facing Maine lobstermen over the past years has brought the state’s fishing organizations together. It would be impossible, and a waste of limited resources, for each association to try to do everything on every issue. Instead, each organization must be true to its strengths — at times taking the lead and at times supporting those groups better equipped to tackle a specific issue. Each organization shares a similar goal: we all want vibrant commercial fisheries in Maine, robust working waterfronts, and thriving fishing communities, today and in the future.

The MLA’s strength has long been advocating for Maine lobstermen, fighting against over-regulation and keeping the industry informed of what is happening. The pinnacle of this work was MLA’s historic win in court last June, which prevented NMFS from misusing its data to over-regulate the lobster industry. The MLA also played a key role in pausing the whale rules for six years.

Organizations such as the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA) are addressing other critical concerns such as fishermen’s health and wellness, advocating for groundfishermen, and promoting the importance of seafood as a healthy food source. MCFA deserves kudos for its leadership in responding to the devastation caused by the January coastal storms. The MLA has supported its efforts while ensuring that lobstermen are well informed on what’s happening. We will all continue to work together to address what's needed to rebuild our working waterfront.

When fishing associations work together, we accomplish great things. The progress we’ve made on offshore wind is a prime example of that.

Maine’s fishing industry groups recognized that we must work together if we were to have any chance of fighting offshore wind. While MLA had a seat on the state’s offshore wind advisory committee, in the end keeping offshore wind out of Lobster Management Area 1 was successful because the fishing industry worked together through the subcommittee process. We talked with each other, defined our position clearly, and agreed on what we wanted. Because of that, we were able to gain the support of Governor Mills and the Maine Congressional delegation. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) took notice and removed almost all of LMA 1 from lease consideration.

Don’t misunderstand me — we don’t always see eye-to-eye on all of the issues. The focus of each organization is uniquely its own, as it should be. What’s comforting is to realize that we have the ability to work together when it matters most.

The future is unclear, even in the best of times. It’s safe to say that Maine’s lobster fishery will be hitting rough seas in the next few years. When that happens we will rally once again, pull in the same direction, and fight together once more to preserve Maine’s fisheries and heritage. Together we stand, divided we fall.


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