F R O M   T H E   C R O W E ’ S   N E S T


Inaction Is Not An Option

The last couple of years have been good times for Maine lobstermen. Herring bait supplies remain an uncertain wild card. At the same time, not atypically, there are a couple of handfuls of other issues swirling around fishing that current prosperity keeps at bay. Among them are rising water temperatures, ocean acidity, area closures, lobster settlement, evolving competition for bottom, and changing lobster migration patterns.

Two areas related to some of these swirling issues, but not always seen in a cause and effect way, are Plan B options for currently active and hopeful future fishermen. First, there’s the question of if and when there might be a need for a marine back-up alternative to lobster fishing. The second question is whether young people will have access to fishing occupations, either lobster or groundfish.

With the increased pressure on lobster fishing since the 1990s and the earnings some boats are seeing today, if there is a stock reduction, entry may become even more difficult. Entry to groundfishing is already near impossible for young people. Catch shares in New England have so consolidated the ownership of quota that the lease price and the market price on some species are the same when it comes to the profitability of catching them. Getting financing on a vessel using these conditions for supporting a business plan is not probable.

With fewer fishermen fishing, fewer young people are learning to fish or learning the fishing business from family. With the other economic pressures on commercial fishing considered – big corporate interest in lobster buying and marketing, real estate pressure on waterfront property, corporate and big vessel owners influencing federal groundfish policy – the life and economic viability of fishing communities is at stake.

In April 2017, the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, HR 2079, was introduced in Congress. It is modeled after the DOAg New Farmers program. New Farmers was a response to the consolidation of farming, induced by federally supported Big Ag programs, which resulted in loss of access, rising costs and generational exclusion for small farmers.

The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and the umbrella group Fishing Communities Coalition proposed HR 2079. The proposed program “will equip local organizations with the necessary tools to develop training, education, outreach, and technical assistance for young fishermen.” It will not attempt to address groundfish lease pricing or Maine lobster license waiting lists, but it will shine a funding light on a big problem. Considering what is at stake, inaction is not an option.