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Steaming Ahead - July 2020

The long sunny days of summer provide a daily reminder of just how special Maine is and how lucky we are to live and work along its beautiful coast. Being a part of Maine’s lobster industry and working to continue its lobstering heritage continually deepens this connection for me.

The steady delivery of sobering news about ever-tightening right whale regulations and the threat of industrial offshore wind development is a constant reminder of how much we have to lose. But these threats have also shown that our shared passion and commitment to our lobster heritage remains an incredibly strong bond among us. Together, Maine lobstermen are taking on these issues. That common dedication gives us all reason for hope.

In June, members of MLA’s legal team visited Maine. They saw the fishery first-hand and talked to lobstermen and others in the industry. Not only did the visit invigorate them, but every person who spoke with Ryan Steen, Jason Morgan and Mary Anne Mason — and listened to them — came away with a strong sense of optimism about our future.

The MLA’s legal team developed a brilliant strategy, based on the facts and the law, which has been skillfully executed through the MLA’s lawsuit against the federal government. Those who met the legal team came away knowing that the MLA’s lawyers are not only the cream of the crop, but they also understand how much the lobster fishery means to each and every one of us. The team’s court briefs skillfully weave together stellar legal arguments grounded in science as well as the critical importance of Maine’s lobster industry to the state’s identity, heritage, economy, communities and families.

The MLA legal team and MLA board and staff in Belfast. MLA photo.

Through our efforts, the MLA has made a sharp impression on the federal government and environmental organizations (engos). Gone are the days when they could simply disregard the concerns of the lobster industry and push their agenda forward. No longer can environmental groups control the narrative in order to confuse the public about what is causing harm to right whales and portray fishermen as villains. They now understand that the MLA has identified significant, legitimate factual issues that the court cannot ignore. The MLA has shown that the lobster industry can go head-to-head with all of them.

The MLA has been fighting for the lobster industry for a long time, since 1954 in fact. But the lobster industry has suffered from a lack of unity, dulling our voice, and giving the feds and environmental organizations just enough room to push our concerns aside. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) created a ten-year whale plan mandating a 98% risk reduction in the lobster industry by 2030, putting an expiration date on our fishery. And the environmental groups want to shut down the fishery entirely unless this draconian plan comes into force even faster.

But they have underestimated us. The MLA launched its Save Maine Lobstermen campaign in 2021 to raise $10 million to wage this fight for as long as it takes. The MLA board made the bold decision to hire the best legal team available so that the fishery would not be eliminated in ten years. The board took a huge leap of faith that the industry and our communities would step up to fund this monumental effort. It was a very big risk for the association — but we couldn’t afford not to.

Many lobstermen and members of fishing communities donated early to support the campaign. If not for these early donations, the MLA would not have been able to hire our legal team and sue the federal government. And less than a year later, we have raised just over $1 million. Our legal work has expanded significantly over the past year, and thankfully, so has the financial support. More and more lobstermen are contributing, and the size of those donations continues to increase. Many coastal towns, recognizing the extreme consequences the ten-year whale plan would bring to their community, have made contributions as well.

The MLA has been talking to the Maine Chamber of Commerce, Maine Tourism Association, Hospitality Maine, Maine’s car dealers, lobster dealers and processors, and many others, to ensure they understand the full economic repercussions the ten-year whale plan will pose for them. We continue to build these relationships, educate people about the severity of the threat facing Maine’s lobster industry, and ask for financial support.

Now that COVID restrictions have been reduced, the MLA will hold fundraisers throughout the summer. During an event on Vinalhaven in June, I was presented with a check for over $1,800. The money had been raised by a civics class at the Vinalhaven school. When Jim LePage’s students learned about what lobstermen were facing due to the ten-year whale plan, they organized to raise money from their community to support the MLA’s legal fight. I was surprised and very moved that these schoolchildren would take the time to fundraise for us. In the long term, if we are successful, their efforts will ensure that they have similar opportunities to lobster as their parents had before them.

If the Maine lobster industry continues to stand together, I firmly believe that we will convince the court and others that the federal government has gotten it wrong — that Maine lobstermen are not the reason that the right whale population is in decline. We have a chance to send the ten-year whale plan back to NMFS so that our fishery is not eliminated. We will be able to hire scientists and educate the public and the media about Maine lobstermen’s decades-long conservation record and the fishery’s successful efforts to protect right whales.

This will only happen if our industry continues to stand together and the MLA has the necessary funds to stay in this fight.

I am really proud of all that MLA has accomplished so far. I am touched and humbled by the generosity of all of those who have supported MLA. It is true that we still have a long way to go to meet our goal. It doesn’t need to be easy, it just needs to be possible. As the saying goes, where there’s a will there’s a way. And there is certainly no shortage of will among Maine lobstermen.

As always, stay safe on the water.

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