KENNEBUNK — How many of you keep money in the bank? Savings accounts, money market accounts, certificates of deposit or investments – we all use different methods to ensure that we have something set aside for the future. Maine lobstermen have been doing just that for the past century, making sure that there will be lobsters in the Gulf of Maine for their children and grandchildren to harvest. In doing so, they have earned a worldwide reputation as leaders in stewardship of marine resources.

Their conservation practices certainly have paid off, according to a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Maine’s lobstermen have built one of the world’s most sustainable fisheries by implementing common-sense conservation measures aimed at ensuring that lobsters are able to reproduce before being caught.

It started more than 100 years ago, long before the establishment of extensive government survey programs or sophisticated computer models. Lobstermen began marking female lobsters that were carrying eggs with a notch in their tails, a practice now known as “v-notching.” It was a simple method that let any lobsterman who might catch that female later, without eggs, know to not harvest her order to allow the lobster to spawn again. Since that time, lobstermen have rallied behind other important conservation measures, such as protecting large lobsters, because the bigger the lobster, the more young they can produce. Lobster traps are equipped with vents to allow smaller lobsters to escape and grow to legal size. Only lobster traps, rather than nets, can be used to catch lobsters, a passive gear that ensures that under- or oversized lobsters can be returned to the sea alive.

Conservation does not come without cost. At certain times of the year, Maine lobstermen throw back more than 50 percent of the lobsters in their traps. Those oversized, undersized and v-notched lobsters were legal to land in the southern New England states until slightly more than a decade ago. They are still legal to land in most parts of Canada. But Maine lobstermen do not complain about their short-term financial sacrifice. They practice conservation because they recognize the investment they are making in their future.

The recently published study confirmed what Maine lobstermen have long understood: Protecting egg-bearing females and oversized lobsters is good both for the lobsters and for lobstermen. This research, by scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the University of Maine and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, finally quantified just how much these conservation practices have paid off. Through their efforts, Maine lobstermen helped to more than double the abundance of lobster during the past three decades. Lobstermen have achieved a rare accomplishment in fisheries by simultaneously building an economically robust and sustainable fishery while also increasing the size of the lobster population.

It is important to note that scientists and fishery managers have not always agreed with Maine lobstermen on the importance of these measures. Led by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Maine alone fought to keep its long-standing v-notching practice and protections for oversize lobsters on the management books. The association went as far as to successfully lobby to move management of the lobster fishery to the interstate Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission so that Maine’s conservation practices would set the standard for other Gulf of Maine states out to 40 miles from shore.

Maine lobstermen have long been at the mercy of Mother Nature and understand that the future is never certain. Success in any fishery requires a flexible business plan and constant ability to adapt to change. We are thrilled to see an esteemed scientific journal acknowledge what Maine’s lobster industry has long understood: Strict conservation practices that allow lobsters to successfully reproduce are the key to a sustainable lobster resource and resilient coastal communities.

Maine lobstermen should feel proud that their sacrifices have played such a large role in the success of today’s lobster fishery. The state’s young lobstermen should feel confident that continuing the practices of their fathers and grandfathers bodes well for their future.

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