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Steaming Ahead | March 2024

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association! Traditionally known as the Platinum Anniversary, it is a sign of both rarity and strength. If that doesn’t accurately define the MLA, I don’t know what does.

Arnie Ganga, Pat White, Dave Cousens and other MLA members

on the cover of National Fishermen in 1999.

Let’s think about it. In 1954, Leslie Dyer of Vinalhaven realized that lobstermen needed to work together in order to get a better deal from lobster buyers. To us that seems like a pretty straightforward notion, but remember, in 1954 lobstermen largely fished inshore, on a very specific territory. Getting together with other lobstermen from distant parts of the coast didn’t happen often. Plus lobstering was not a full-time job in those days. Fishermen moved among many different fisheries depending on the time of year. The idea that a lobsterman might want to be part of an organization solely devoted to the lobster fishery, and pay money for the privilege, must have seemed a little strange in 1954.

Les Dyer persevered. He traveled to Beals and Cutler, he went down to Portland, he talked to lobstermen on the islands. With the assistance of Rockland attorney Alan Grossman, he pulled together enough lobstermen and enough money to organize the MLA. Its first meeting was held in the old Thorndike Hotel in Rockland on October 1, 1954. As a local newspaper wrote at the time, “The combination of low prices for their catch and the loss of gear in the two hurricanes has brought lobstermen along the Maine coast to a realization that something must be done to help their business.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Since 1954 the MLA has been doggedly working to sustain the lobster fishery and the people and communities that rely on it. We are the oldest fishing organization on the East Coast. A list of the issues the MLA has tackled in 70 years would run longer than your arm. But no organization can afford to rest on its laurels. The fact that the MLA managed to block construction of an oil refinery in Downeast Maine back in the 1970s probably isn’t foremost in the minds of young lobstermen dealing with re-marking their gear with purple color again this spring. The fact that the MLA packed the Augusta Civic Center with lobstermen to successfully crush the possibility of dragger-caught lobsters being landed in Maine might not make a lobsterman considering where to get good bait this season look up. The fact that corporate ownership of lobster licenses is prohibited in Maine due to the political strength of the MLA may be just a hazy memory in the minds of some lobstermen.

But no one can forget the fact that the MLA took on the National Marine Fisheries Service in a time of dire peril for the fishery...and won.

If we had not been at the table, if we had not raised the money to hire the expertise of a stellar legal team, if we had not used our collective power to get Congressional action in late 2022, the state’s lobster fishery would have been so restricted by regulations designed to protect right whales that it effectively would have died this year.

I took this position with the MLA around March 2023. If you asked me why, I think I would say that I was impressed by the honest dedication I saw among the board members and the MLA’s staff. You don’t find that sort of passion in many businesses or organizations. I respected the fact that the MLA had been doing what it does so well for so long. You don’t find many small advocacy groups still taking on the big fights after so many decades of struggle.

I liked what I saw. I like it even more after a year.

And after a year, I need to ask you a question: Are you a member? Are you a donor? Are you a part of this iconic legacy, built over the generations? Thank you if you are! If not, why not?

The MLA has been led by many people over the years — Les Dyer, Ossie Beal, Ed Blackmore, David Cousens, and Kristan Porter. But at its core the MLA is its members. The members and the board of directors they elect make this 70-year-old miracle tick.

In our Platinum Anniversary year, please join us. While the victory in court last year has given the fishery breathing room for now, the very same regulatory efforts – to reduce the risk of entanglement by right whales in lobster fishing gear – are due to return in 2028. Once again the MLA will be fighting for Maine’s lobstermen, all of them, through every means available to it. After all, that’s what we’ve been doing for 70 years.

I hope you will be with us.


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