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Steaming Ahead | September 2023

First published in Landings, September 2023

The summer fog lifted (for most of us) and Maine’s coast is once again showing off its beauty. It’s hard not to notice! It’s why you call the coast home, yet it is also something that will never get old.

The MLA has been out of the office as much as possible these past three months, at boat races, festivals and fundraising events, in order to spread the word that the fight against punitive federal regulations targeted at the lobster fishery is ongoing.

While the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) regulatory sword that was hanging over our heads is gone for the moment, the need for organized resistance built on sound science and not pie-in-the-sky assumptions is as strong now as it was six months ago.

By attending summer festivals, like Milbridge's 175th anniversary, the MLA is spreading the word about its work and the challenges ahead for the Maine lobster fishery. MLA photo.

Antonina Pelletier, MLA membership director, has trekked the coast with Mindy Coath, our administrator extraordinaire, and Rebecca Nuzzi, our new policy associate, to many of the lobster boat races this summer. They sold MLA swag, talked with anyone and everyone about the MLA’s legal efforts, and collected donations.

People gave money but also stayed to chat about why our work is so important to them and their community, what the MLA means to them, or to tell tales of their lives and the lives of their parents or grandparents on the water. Lobstermen may bicker, we may not see eye-to-eye, but we have proved that we will all join forces to protect what is important for this fishery. So, if you see a #SaveMaineLobstermen hoodie, hat or shirt, thank the person for their support!

Adding to our adventures, MLA staff have spoken at fundraisers and festivals throughout the summer, which have given all of us opportunities to really chat about the details. Yes, the MLA won its court case, remanding NMFS’s ill-conceived Biological Opinion back to the lower court. Yes, the lobster fishery continues under the 2021 whale rule. And yes, a lot of money is coming from Congress to evaluate alternative lobster gear and to support research specific to the fishery and North Atlantic right whales.

However, the clock is still ticking. NMFS must revise the Biological Opinion and resulting whale rules in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act after 2028. The MLA must continue to be at the table to ensure that sound science and unbiased assumptions are baked into the Biological Opinion from its inception or we will be in trouble once again when NMFS is done. We need good science and sound legal representation, both of which require money.

People really are amazed when I tell them how much we’ve accomplished with such a small staff. There are never enough hours in the day but some how the magic happens. It is not unheard of to start getting texts or emails before breakfast or well into the late night and every hour in between. Our aim is to get lobstermen the information and support and they need to know what is going on at the state and federal levels and what to be prepared for.

The MLA board is the other heavy lifter. Every board member is a lobsterman, lives on the coast and is in the thick of all the same concerns that every MLA member has. So, when the MLA board decides that something needs to be addressed, researched or advocated for, it is because there is a real need. There isn’t an ulterior motive or agenda, just a need.

This summer it became clear that the future of Maine’s lobstermen is now an issue for many additional organizations besides the MLA. The Maine Lobster Festival did more than ever before to share your stories and remind people that small actions of support add up to big impacts. The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative asked every visitor to Maine to eat lobster (and eat it every chance they could!). A new organization, the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association, stepped forward a few months ago to join the fight against offshore wind energy development and other activities that threaten the Gulf of Maine and its fishermen.

I truly hope that you look at this time, filled with so many changes and challenges, and recognize that you aren’t in it alone. You have a team working behind the scenes who are dedicated to you, your families and Maine’s lobster heritage.

Good luck in the fall season and may you stay safe.

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