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Maine Voices: Lobstermen Want to Follow Science to Protect Environment, Iconic Industry
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Maine Voices: Lobstermen Want to Follow Science to Protect Environment, Iconic Industry

Maine Voices: Lobstermen want to follow science to protect environment, iconic industry

I am a member the Maine Lobstering Union as well as a multi-generational lobsterman, and I enjoy reading The Lobster Trap, a collaboration between The Boston Globe, and the Portland Press Herald.

Tanner Lazaro talks to Frank Thompson in Obsession, a cabin on the veteran lobsterman’s boat, Sept. 1. This was Tanner’s last week of summer vacation. Tanner Lazaro, 15, has always wanted to work on water and is grateful to have Thompson’s guidance. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

One hand, I was impressed with the compelling stories the authors told about the people and their families and the recognition of our daily challenges. Frank and Jean Thompson are the lifeblood Vinalhavens’ fishing industry. They understand the pressures that the lobster sector is facing better than anyone.

However, I couldn’t help but view some of the series’ broad-brush inferences as unfair, condescending, and inaccurate. The authors suggest that only a few lobstermen are wealthy one-percenters. The Maine lobsterman does not work as an average worker. Therefore, any comparison, whether direct or inference, is unfair.

Maine lobstermen continue to risk their lives every time they leave home in a world of remote working, bailouts, and supply chain issues. The risk that they might not have a penny when they return home is something that most average workers don’t take on.

Too long, the Maine lobsterman was seen as a symbol of Down East individualism and a deserving of a fair portion of the price of their catch. The Maine Lobstering Union was established on the belief that it is time to end the take-what-you-are-given and like it business model that generations upon generations of Maine lobstermen have been working under for decades.

Time and again, the series’ authors suggest that many, if not most, lobstermen are turning a blind eye to climate change or the plight of the North Atlantic right whale. Our union is like any open-membership organization or labor organization. It includes people of all political views and stripes. Maine’s lobster fishing industry is one of the most sustainable in the country. It is incorrect to suggest that the Maine Lobstering Union or lobstermen in general are ignorant of environmental science or blithely ignore it to avoid the inevitable.

The Lobster Trap surprised me to see that a senior scientist, cited by the authors, asserts that the problem has been exacerbated by the increased strength and availability of fishing lines since the lobster boom in the late 1990s. Since 1997, Maine lobstermen have complied with stringent regulations to protect the right Whale.

The most important thing I took away from the series was that Maine lobstermen are often frustrated. The authors were right in this regard. We are very disappointed that despite years spent complying with ever more expensive regulations to protect the right Whale and our environment, these efforts have not been rewarded. Worse, they have not been measured in terms of their effectiveness.

We are also frustrated by the fact that federal regulators are not afraid to impose ever more stringent restrictions on Maine lobstermen despite their failure to monitor and track whereabouts and inability to analyze if existing regulations are effective.

We are annoyed at being unfairly described as a new generation of one-percenters that are not informed or caring about the ecosystem in which our lives and work every day. Despite all its machinations against us, the federal governments arbitrary, capricious rulemaking boils to bureaucratic expedience not science. They have done nothing to protect the majestic creature known as the right Whale from manufactured dangers.

In this regard, the Sept. 5 Press Herald editorial, Our View, Whale Protection Plan is Set up to Fail (Page D2) is a good example: Federal regulation of Maine’s lobstermen will not improve the well-being and welfare of right whales. The Maine Lobstering Union supports rational, science-based policies to preserve Maine’s most iconic industry and protect the ocean and other creatures that depend on it. A better understanding of science by policymakers and the public would make it possible to achieve this goal.

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