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Steaming Ahead | May 2024

I write to you this month with a new title after my name, Acting Chief Operating Officer (COO). In early April, MLA’s COO resigned and the board asked me to serve as Acting COO. I accepted and will be working with the board and staff as we transition once again to ensure the Maine Lobstermen's Association is well prepared for our growing list of challenges. I ask for your patience while we work through a few growing pains but assure you that the MLA is stronger than ever and will not waver in our mission to keep lobstermen fishing.

Here's hoping for a great 2024 season! B.Wish photo.

Fulfilling that mission remains the core of the MLA’s work. So far this year, the MLA has helped to secure funding through the Maine legislature to rebuild Maine’s storm damaged working waterfront infrastructure. We opposed a bill that would have changed how Maine implements the Atlantic State’s Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) management plans because it inevitably would have threatened to shut down our fishery. MLA has requested that ASMFC get rid of the requirement that electronic trackers remain on when you are not fishing, and that the gauge increase not go into effect in January 2025. The MLA also played a huge role in ensuring that no industrial wind farms can be built in Lobster Management Area 1.


To secure critical funds to rebuild essential fishing infrastructure damaged during the severe December and January storms, the MLA partnered with a coalition of Maine’s fishing groups and Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR). We stood together to shepherd this bill through the legislative process. Even though it was caught up in some end of-session politicking, the funding passed due to incredible advocacy from fishermen and fishing organizations. DMR expects to publish applications and grant program criteria by May 9.


Many have asked why the MLA opposed a bill in the Maine Legislature to add additional oversight to the ASMFC process. The answer is simple – we did it because we want to keep you fishing. The ASMFC already has a robust public process and, importantly, equal representation among states. It could take up to a year to get oversight by the Maine Legislature on an ASMFC management plan. This additional time would put the state out of compliance, and the fishery could be shut down. Those states that have been found out of compliance have had to quickly scramble to get measures in place to keep the fishery open, adding a lot of anxiety for already stressed fishermen.


For those confused and frustrated by the ASMFC, remember that a lot of good has come from managing lobster through them rather than through the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), as it was until the 1990s. Back then, for instance, offshore boats from other states were allowed to sit at the 3-mile line and catch oversize and V-notch lobsters that Maine lobstermen had thrown back. Maine’s influence at ASMFC changed that.


The MLA has received many questions about what we’ve done regarding the vessel tracking requirement and gauge increase. Let me be clear — the MLA opposed both of these measures. The MLA weighed in as these plans were being developed, attended the public hearings, and provided extensive comments expressing our members’ concerns with both proposals. Currently the MLA Board is moving forward with strategies to address the consequences of each requirement.


For vessel trackers, the common theme that all lobstermen seem to agree on is that lobster boats should not be tracked when they are not fishing. This is government overreach. Regarding the gauge increase, after pouring through the scientific reports and recommendations, reviewing the data, and noting the lack of guidance from ASMFC on how the gauge increase would impact the lobster market, the MLA has concluded that a gauge increase is not necessary at this time.


The MLA sent a letter on each requirement to the ASMFC, asking managers to remove the 24/7 requirement for vessel trackers and to delay the gauge increase. MLA’s President Kristan Porter travelled to Virginia to speak about these concerns directly to the ASMFC board at its April 30 meeting.


ASMFC’s actions and the storm damage fund certainly demanded a lot of attention, yet the MLA continues its work to elevate the lobster industry’s concerns with offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Maine and to advocate against over-reaching whale protection measures.


We had a huge victory on offshore wind when Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced it would not issue leases in LMA1. The MLA worked tirelessly with our colleagues in Maine’s fishing industry, our Congressional delegation, and Governor Mills to ensure these prime lobster fishing grounds are spared from industrial wind development. We are proud that so many lobstermen have constructively engaged in this process and grateful that the BOEM listened to their concerns. The MLA continues to put in a lot of time on offshore wind and remains steadfast in its position that no area of the Gulf of Maine should be industrialized with so many unanswered questions regarding the impacts of offshore wind development on the marine environment and commercial fishing.


The MLA continues to represent lobstermen on the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (TRT). We were concerned to learn in March that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) plans to initiate work on new whale rules next year, leading to an October 2025 discussion on a risk reduction target and management measures. The resulting proposed rule would publish in the fall of 2026. This truncated timeline is concerning because it significantly limits the amount of new data that will be considered as the basis of those rules. Congress provided the six-year delay specifically to allow time to collect more data to inform future rules. The MLA’s legal team remains prepared to address whatever NMFS ultimately decides to throw us.


Believe me, I understand that this is a lot to digest. There is a lot coming at us, but that’s the reality that we live in today. The MLA will continue to put politics aside and advocate for the survival of the lobster industry. We will base our strategy on a sound understanding of the laws, regulation and science. The MLA board, staff, and our legal and scientific experts will continue to spend time and energy thinking about how to best position the organization to counter what we know is coming down the road. My job is to keep the ship on a steady course and to let you know what we are doing and why. Thank you to all of you who continue to support the MLA and its important work!


As always, stay safe on the water.


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