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Steaming Ahead | January 2024

One of the advantages that comes with being president of the MLA board is that I get to meet a lot of different people across many sectors of the fishing industry. This has given me the opportunity to learn how fishermen from different areas along our coast fish and how each is a little bit different. Often, I have to travel for meetings outside of Maine and get to meet folks from other fisheries and learn from them and their experiences.

National Fisherman Highliner Curt Brown of Ready Seafood receives his award at the Expo accompanied by his two children. PME photo.

Back in 2019 I had an opportunity to attend the Pacific Marine Expo (PME) in Seattle, Washington, which is a huge trade show and industry event. It’s similar to the Maine Fisherman’s Forum but much larger. It didn’t take long for me to realize after meeting a few West Coast fishermen that we all face very similar issues no matter what side of the country we are from. There are the usual things that always come up when you get talking, like the rising cost of doing business, the low dock prices, and loss of working waterfront. But two other things were disturbingly similar — threats from environmental organizations and from offshore wind development.

I learned so much and met so many interesting people on that first trip that I have gone back twice on my own dime as a sort of mini-vacation. This past November I went to the Expo again, along with Long Island lobsterman and MLA vice president Craig Stewart. We met so many fishermen — purse seiners, gillnetters, trollers, trawlers, and pot fisherman — and industry leaders while we were there.

The issues on the West Coast are still the same except for one thing — their fisheries are under attack from environmental groups. Like the MLA, the west coast fishing industry is fighting back and winning against the environmental groups and the federal government who are trying to push them out of business to save whales and build industrial wind farms.

They’ve been following MLA’s work to save the lobster fishery from the government’s over-regulation, which is supposed to protect whales, and its push to build offshore wind farms. We had so many people congratulating us on our huge court win against NMFS this summer and on our gains in pushing offshore wind leases outside Lobster Management Area 1. Every conversation ended with us talking about our common fight to save our fisheries and the need for fishing groups on both coasts to work together to share information and to influence federal actions.

One thing is certain: the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s win in the D.C. Appeals Court is a very big deal and it has been noticed nationally. MLA’s win in court set a precedent in how the federal government must interpret the Endangered Species Act. NMFS can no longer assume the worst about how fishermen will impact a species, it must look at scenarios that are based in reality using real data.

The MLA has inspired other fisheries to not give up and keep fighting. The Alaskan trollers, a very sustainable hook and line salmon fishery, were under threat of being shut down because environmental groups sued NMFS and won, claiming the fishermen are catching a food source of an endangered Orca whale species. The trollers association fought back and won a “stay,” so they can fish while they pursue a legal challenge.

When you live in Maine, you don’t really think about how our fishery is seen by the rest of the country. Sure, everyone thinks “lobster” when they hear the word “Maine,” but on a day-to-day basis, who has the time to think about what our fishery or the MLA means outside of the state?

I’ll tell you.

Because the MLA stood up to NMFS when the agency said we had to reduce risk to endangered right whales by a ridiculous 98%, because we went on the offensive instead of always playing defense, because MLA members and businesses and towns and banks and individuals supported our legal challenge, we won this round. And we won big! Now the Maine lobster fishery stands as an inspiration to other fisheries for what can be accomplished when you stand up for what you believe in.

I can’t tell you how proud I am to be a Maine lobsterman and to serve in the leadership of an organization that took on the federal government — against all odds — and won.

As we start a new year, think about what the MLA has done, and know that it would not have been possible without the outpouring of support from you. You have given new life to the lobster fishery and have given inspiration and hope to the West Coast fishermen, their families, and communities. Not bad for a bunch of lobstermen!


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