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Steaming Ahead - June 2023

It’s been about a minute. That is how long I have been on the MLA team. In fact, I’ve been here three months but when you consider the seven-decade timeline of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, I’ve been here just a minute.

Amber-Jean and Hugh Reynolds of Greenhead Lobster at the Boston Seafood Show in March.

When I began to dive into my new position I often sat back and listened. I asked to be at any meeting and on every email and yes, any Zoom I could. I wanted to listen to anyone and everyone. I wanted to hear who took part in the conversations, who added their opinions after the subject changed and who were the people who waited until the end to speak.

I read a lot too. Thankfully Landings issues are online, archived, so that challenges of past years are available to study, issues filled with the storylines of how we got to where we are today.

In 2016, Patrice wrote in “Steaming Ahead,” “It’s a privilege to be a lobsterman during times of plenty, but nevertheless we will face some tough issues ahead. We’ve certainly done a lot right over the years and there is much about this industry that should not change. Still, there are some changes that perhaps each lobsterman should be thinking about and that our industry as a whole should be discussing. "Fish smarter, not harder!” 2016 was a great year for many, but also a year that led to a season of change and challenge. Even some younger lobstermen must look back now with nostalgia at a time when lobstering was a whole lot simpler (and less expensive!).

In my first week on the job I was handed a “Fish Smarter, Not Harder” T-Shirt to wear at the Fishermen’s Forum. It’s a good example of how understanding the meaning behind the words changes your perspective. This slogan was not composed by a marketing department in a city somewhere out of state, but was born on the water, in the Gulf of Maine.

As I continued listening, I observed subtle things. How MLA staff ask about a member’s family by name and how board members checked in on members who needed some help. Donation checks for the MLA legal fight arrived with personal notes sharing stories and connections to the MLA. Some were so detailed and special they moved staff members to tears.

One day a board member entered the office during a meeting and instead of any of us being startled or even annoyed at the interruption, smiles and welcoming gestures immediately ushered him in. He came straight from getting his bait so had a certain …. aroma. Everyone at the meeting was excited to sniff the scent of the starting season; some even noticed that he had gone back to herring, which had been so hard to come by. It was jubilant and supportive. It was personal.

I haven’t experienced this type of industry before, where your work is understood so personally by other fishermen throughout the Maine coast and the struggles you and your family face are also shared. The Maine lobster industry is old school, and some might say stuck in its ways. But it’s those ways that have built a fishery to be proud of. It’s the grit that keeps our small coastal towns afloat through economic ups and downs.

There is another voice that I think is important, that the MLA makes heard: the lobstermen too busy to advocate for themselves. They are giving it their all and trying to find a balance between sanity and survival. They are on the water chasing the catch and then on land planning their next day out. They and their families may not be as vocal, but they have deep-felt concerns like the rest of us.

The more I dig, the more I realize there will never be a day when I can say, “I am all caught up!” Still, what I have already grasped is that the MLA is the glue. The MLA was founded in 1954. We are the oldest and largest fishing industry association in the state, still working nearly 70 years later to sustain the industry and the lobster resource.

Because the MLA is a credible voice and highly regarded we must remain in the painful conversations taking place about our lobstering future. You fish; the MLA fights.

Amber-Jean and MLA member and supporter Chantal Jennings at the Maine Seafood Reception.

The MLA has been and will continue working diligently to uphold lobstermen, the sustainable wild-caught food they provide, and the economic stability they create for our coastal communities and for our children to live and work in Maine. Whether you are a lobsterman, a business, or just someone passionate about Maine and its iconic fishery, your support as a member matters.

I am so proud to be a part of the MLA team and its history. But if I am being honest, I am even more excited to see how our next chapter reads. There is a lot more that we will do … minute by minute.


Amber-Jean Nickel is the chief operating officer of the Maine Lobstermen's Association. She has been part of Maine's lobster industry for over 20 years, on the processing side and is honored to now work closely with lobstermen.



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