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Steaming Ahead: MLA Update

The Maine lobster industry would certainly benefit from Ben Franklin’s advice, “We must all indeed hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” As the Maine Lobstermen’s Association launches its summer membership campaign, the significance of the issues makes clear the importance of lobstermen coming together in a strong MLA. After 64 years, the MLA fathoms the world of lobstering well. As the oldest, largest and most experienced fishing industry organization in Maine, the MLA understands and respects the survival-of-the-fittest ethic that pervades our industry. But we also understand the need to maintain a vibrant and profitable lobster fishery in order to keep our coastal communities alive and preserve economic opportunity for our children. It is not the MLA’s job to tell lobstermen how to run their businesses or to have any part in micromanaging how they fish. Rather, the MLA’s job is to fulfill its mission to advocate for a sustainable lobster resource and the fishermen and communities that depend on it. Given the scope and depth of today’s issues facing the Maine lobster industry, fulfilling our mission is more important than ever. Lobstermen have come to rely on the MLA’s knowledge and expertise to deal with important issues such as the potential for new whale regulations, the looming bait crisis and uncertainty in the global market. I spend many hours on the road attending meetings, monitoring a wide array of issues and submitting feedback to regulators. I can assure you that there is no other Maine lobster industry group that comes close to doing what the MLA does. None cover the breadth of issues that we cover. And none have the experience, level of knowledge or connections to work as effectively as the MLA. The MLA’s track record is impressive. Since 1954, the MLA has been in the forefront of every issue affecting Maine’s lobstermen. From day one, MLA president Les Dyer fought for fair pricing and helped members get health and boat insurance plans that they could afford. Ossie Beal then led the fight against construction of oil refineries in Downeast Maine and against landing lobsters caught by draggers in Maine, a fight that the MLA will continue to tirelessly battle each time it rears its ugly head. By the 1970s Ed Blackmore had stepped up to wrangle with the Internal Revenue Service on behalf of Maine lobstermen. Ed fought a contentious battle over several years to keep lobstermen from paying costly payroll taxes on their sternmen – an expense that most simply could not afford. Ed won that fight and so in the current U.S. tax code sternmen are classified as self-employed contractors. When it became apparent that the New England Fisheries Management Council was not the right entity to manage Maine’s largely state-based lobster fishery, MLA executive director Pat White and president David Cousens joined forces with Maine’s Congressional delegation to get management authority moved to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. It was through this process that Maine was able to expand its lobster conservation measures to New Hampshire and Massachusetts and out to 40 miles from shore, thus keeping Shafmaster boats from sitting on the 3-mile line and catching Maine’s oversized and V-notched lobster. The MLA has never been afraid to tackle any issue that could harm Maine’s lobstermen or the lobster resource. We might not always win, but we are always at the forefront, making sure our members’ voices and the interests of Maine’s lobstering communities are heard. Under the leadership of MLA’s new President, Kristan Porter, Maine’s lobster industry may face its biggest challenges to date. Porter has strong support from the MLA staff, and our young and diverse board of directors. As Porter was transitioning in, the MLA successfully fought to stop coral closures in Downeast Maine. Under Porter’s leadership, the MLA has said “No” to ropeless fishing and held a series of outreach meetings with lobstermen to develop strategies to keep lobstermen fishing as the new whale rules evolve. The MLA has intervened in the court case brought against NMFS by environmental groups pushing for more stringent whale protection measures and also has opposed the development of offshore energy. The MLA will continue to fight for the future of our industry, but our voice is only as strong as our members’ voices. The board of directors is composed of your fellow lobstermen from all along the coast, from harbors large and small. When you are a member of the MLA, you have a say in all that the board and this organization does. Our way of life is under constant threat. As the issues get more complex, so do the consequences for the lobster industry. The MLA needs your support to continue the fight. Thank you for your support. And as always, stay safe on the water.

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