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Steaming Ahead - November 2021

It’s been a long road for the MLA, pushing back against NMFS and the environmental community on the misguided and unfair whale rules. Then there are the more recent battles against the explosion of activity related to offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. We’ve endured months and years of frustration leading to the grim reality that the MLA must remain forever vigilant, proactive and strategic in combating these two issues because they truly threaten the future of the Maine lobster fishery.

The lobster industry has been dealing with various iterations of the whale rules for more than 20 years, but this time it is very different. For the first time ever, we are facing a mandatory risk reduction target – 98% – within a set timeframe – by 2030. If we do not follow the requirements of the ten-year whale plan, the consequence is clear: NMFS will not authorize the lobster fishery. Our task is equally clear – we must get NMFS to reevaluate its science to revise the risk reduction goal and timeframe in order to get out from under this ever-present and devastating threat. The issues we now face are as complicated as they get and our adversaries are not easily defeated. As unpleasant as that is, it is reality. We have no choice but to fight with all we have right now. The future of the lobster fishery is at stake.

But it will take more than words to make that happen. As a state and as an industry, we must come together to do this. This is challenging work because it takes patience, faith, trust, and it takes strong leaders to serve as honest brokers. Andrew Carnegie said, “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.” Our industry would be wise to heed these words as it continues to be plagued by internal fighting, bullying and other tactics aimed at dividing rather than drawing us together. Make no mistake, internal fighting is a recipe for failure. We all know the cliché, “United we stand, divided we fall.” One thing I can assure you is that the Maine lobster industry will not prevail if we are divided.

The MLA is prepared to lead the Maine lobster industry through this fight. While I am not arrogant enough to promise certain victory or to pretend that we are not going to lose a few battles along the way, I do know that the MLA has assembled an extraordinary team. We know the issues inside and out and we are ready to battle every step of the way to win this long war.

I understand that some will choose not to support the MLA in this long conflict. And I respect each person’s right to follow his or her heart and do what you think is best. That is yours to choose and you own your decision. What I don’t understand and will never understand, is why some need to tear others down to build themselves up. I read an article in Forbes on leadership a few years ago. The author listed five things that a truly great leader would never do: 1) rip someone apart mercilessly who challenges them; 2) fight to the death over trying to be seen as “right” and better than others; 3) spurn and put down the very people they say they are hope to lead and influence; 4) fail to hold themselves accountable when they make mistakes and 5) lie about the facts to skew the reality of a situation. Sadly, social media provides an easy platform for this type of unhealthy leadership to take hold. It preys upon people’s fears, manipulates people, and twists information and the truth to place seeds of doubt in people’s minds. I have both observed and been the victim of these tactics from other organizations that need to put the MLA down as a prerequisite for taking credit for work they do. Slogans about “standing together” are meaningless when actions demonstrate otherwise.

I attest that the MLA has reached out to all of Maine’s fishing groups time after time in order to fight offshore wind developments and the whale rules as allies, not adversaries. One of our biggest successes was getting all of the industry associations to sign a letter addressing the multitude of errors and flaws in NMFS’s Biological Opinion and 10-year whale plan. We all understood the importance of the industry speaking with one voice on a plan that aims to put our fishery out of business.

As a result of MLA’s tireless efforts, the tenor of the right whale issue is finally shifting. You now regularly read that the Maine lobster fishery has never killed or seriously injured a right whale and has not had a known right whale entanglement in nearly 20 years. And that ship strikes are known to harm more whales in the U.S. than fishing gear. And that Canada’s right whale protection efforts lag behind the United States. Without the MLA’s hard work combing through all the federal data behind the scenes, you can be sure that this information would not be in the mainstream media.

It is also the MLA and its legal team leading the industry’s fight against NMFS and the environmental groups’ twisted interpretation of the science related to right whales. We have done the difficult work of identifying the many errors in the agency’s data and its interpretations, including things like accusing the lobster industry of being the biggest threat to right whales because of the fishery’s size, the decision to evenly allocate unknown whale entanglements to the U.S. and Canada, and the claim that right whales do not die of natural causes. It was the MLA that pointed out that the LMA 1 closure is neither based on the presence of whales nor necessary to meet the risk reduction goal of the final rule. The MLA openly shares its years of hard work to get Maine’s side of the whale issue out to the public and to change NMFS’s management approach. Our work is out there for others to use to advance the cause. It is acceptable for other industry groups to build their successes on the MLA’s efforts however it is unseemly, short-sighted and harmful for them to do so while simultaneously criticizing the MLA and attacking our reputation.

That is not leadership. It will not advance efforts to save Maine’s lobster industry.

As these anti-MLA campaigns flare up and fizzle out, you will not see the MLA engage or launch counter-attacks. The MLA has a well-conceived, strategic long-term plan to save Maine’s lobster industry. We have our heading and will stay the course to correct and rescind the concerted effort by federal agencies and environmental groups to hold Maine’s lobstermen accountable for the decline among right whales.

In a harsh world, it is important to know who has your back. The MLA has yours. We will continue to be honest with you about the hard reality of the challenges we face and to work tirelessly to save Maine’s lobster industry. As always, stay safe on the water.

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