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


Scaled To Reality

This season, lobster fishing has seen a plan unfold to ensure a full season’s supply of bait. On a chalkboard, it would out-complicate the scribbles for a desperate last-half, last down-play in any league. The season started early with a herring shortage, followed by a summer menhaden glut, along with sluggish lobster landings, followed by fall herring landings picking up a bit. At the same time, some dealers feared being stuck with bait and others were trekking to Canada to find some.

The rapid recovery of alewives in rivers where fish passages at dams and other obstructions have been removed to allow fish passage is the greatest hope for more lobster bait security. This anadromous fish restoration can be the foundation for more-stable bait supplies and the return of adequate prey fish to support the recovery of groundfish in the Gulf of Maine.

The lobster fishery in Maine remains sustainable and the backbone of a stable, real economy for coastal communities, in large part because it is a small-boat, owner-operated fishery. There are a lot of boats in a lot of communities. The restoration of groundfish habitat, which includes abundant prey fish, is wedded to the restoration of the enormous power of Maine’s riverine watershed to produce the spawn of many species that flood out of rivers into the Gulf of Maine.

The 30-year effort by interests in and outside the groundfish industry, using the federal management process, to privatize the ownership of the fish resource at a time when the fleet is so weakened, is the greatest threat to its survival. The federal criminal trial of Carlos Rafael now concluding in Boston is evidence that rapid, highly consolidated ownership is very possible.

Tim Rider ground fishes out of Eliot, Maine. His crew successfully fishes with rod and reel from a 36' lobster boat. Other fishermen are experimenting with gear variations that are hook-and-line based. The fish landed are much higher quality, direct marketing brings higher prices, and there is very low bycatch and no impact on bottom fish habitat. The investment in vessels, gear and maintenance costs are lower. Will many want to fish this way? Will the sustainability it embodies make it imperative? Without dramatic change in the way public resource fisheries are managed, soon virtually no one will be ground fishing independently.

Better product, more profit, owner-operator and sustainable. Resource use scaled to reality.