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Support for MLA Legal Defense Fund Critical to Lobster Fishery Future

Lobstermen and sternmen alike understand the importance of the Legal Defense Fund. Image courtesy IG ocean_coastin

“The Maine lobster industry has provided me with a wonderful way of life. I’d like to see it continue,” said Zachary Stotz, 37, a Round Pound lobsterman, when talking about his recent donation to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) Legal Defense Fund (LDF). The Fund is dedicated to supporting MLA’s efforts to save Maine’s lobster fishery from imminent threats such as the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) fundamentally flawed 10-year Whale Plan which could erase the Maine lobster fishery.

Stotz is a second-generation lobsterman, following in the footsteps of his father John. He began lobstering when he was seven. “I do what I love,” he said quietly. “I just knew I had to do something.” Stotz believes that the measures threatening Maine lobstermen are unjust and will do little to protect the endangered right whales. “If I thought that the regulations would save right whales I would do more. It would be a real shame for the lobster industry to be eliminated and for the right whale population to go extinct.”

As he contemplates the future, Stotz is ready to make changes in how and where he fishes. He owns a 40-foot boat and holds a federal permit, but he is thinking of staying inside 12 miles this year due to the new trawling up requirements. “I don’t think it would be safe. It’s just not feasible trawling up to 25 traps,” he explained.

Vinalhaven sternman, Henry Ross, spoke bluntly about why he sent his recent contribution to the LDF. “I’ve been a sternman for 40 years. That’s my job and I have to defend my living,” he said. Ross has been on the water for decades and, like many Maine lobstermen, has never seen a right whale. “I don’t understand why they are doing this stuff. We need to combat this unbelievable attack on the lobster fishery,” he said.

And don’t get him started on the idea of ropeless lobster fishing. The idea of using acoustic devices to locate traps at sea triggers a sharp laugh. “Ropeless is ridiculous. You’ve got to have a buoy to see who is there. There could be fifty people fishing in the same spot, what a mess.”

Ross mentions friends who have comfortable jobs on land, making a regular salary with regular hours. “But I tell them I have the best corner office in the world. The scenery is always changing. Every day, there’s always something interesting,” he said.

Lester Stanley, 36, also made a generous donation to the LDF last month. The Swan’s Island lobsterman finally decided to send in his contribution to the Fund after learning of the MLA’s September lawsuit against NMFS. “With all this stuff we’re up against and the NOAA regulation, the MLA is fighting. I knew it was time,” he said.

Stanley has been lobstering full-time since he graduated high school in 2004. It was his mother who led him into the fishery as a youngster. Like other Swan’s Island lobstermen, he doesn’t believe he will be affected directly by the offshore closure included in NMFS’s regulations. “But it makes me nervous. I’m afraid about more people spilling into our area, people setting on each other,” he said, referring to the 60-plus lobstermen who would be barred from their normal lobster grounds by the closure.

Stanley is more worried about the 1,700-pound weak points that lobstermen will be required to use in their lines next year. “Weak points are a bad thing. My gear will be parting all the time,” he said. A lobster trap costs between $75 and $100; losing many traps due to weak points in a line presents a significant expense to a lobsterman. He hopes that the MLA will prevail in its legal efforts. Regardless, he retains a certain optimism, a characteristic of many in his generation of lobstermen. “We’ve always seemed to make it work and to survive,” Stanley said. “We’re hoping it all works out.”

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