In-depth, investigative reporting is increasingly rare these days. So, in that regard, it was nice to see the Portland Press Herald and The Boston Globe commit resources to spend a year examining some of the very real challenges facing Maine’s lobster industry.

Tanner Lazaro breaks apart frozen bait while working as a sternman on Frankie Thompson’s boat Obsession last July 24. Most days in the summer, 15-year-old Tanner is up early to go to work on the back of a boat. It is how the Vinalhaven native has always spent his time away from school. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The resulting series, The Lobster Trap (Dec. 12 and 14), missed the boat, however, in its quest to invent a drama that places Maine’s lobster industry on the front line in the “battle over climate change.” It’s unfortunate that the articles’ tone suggests you are either enlightened and committed to save the planet from climate change, or you are sadly naïve and bury your head in the sand while your livelihood slowly fades away. Nothing could be further from the truth.

From the lobster industry’s perspective, the series doesn’t accurately tell their story. Its seven key takeaways are disconnected from the people who were just a means to an end. This reporting dismisses, dehumanizes and minimizes fishermen’s role in mitigation and adaptation strategies, and it perpetuates a narrative that they are unwilling to engage in climate change conversations.

Lobstermen are not climate deniers and they do not reject science. In fact, their livelihood depends on sound science along with their intimate understanding of our oceans. They live it, observe it and constantly innovate and adapt so that they, and future generations, can continue to make a living from the sea. But they also understand that science is incomplete, and we are continuously learning. While scientists have many of the answers, science itself is constantly evolving and sometimes what we thought was right turns out to be wrong. Fishermen rightly question scientific “truths, ” not because they don’t believe them, but because they are imperfect explanations that often do not match what they observe while working at sea.

They also recognize that most policymakers do not have intimate knowledge of life at sea. While decisions may be logical from the outside looking in, they are often not the best choice for the fishing community. As independent business owners who must trust their instincts to remain successful in an ever-changing ocean environment, fishermen have learned not to blindly accept how outsiders interpret their world. They have a survival instinct to challenge, question and demand accountability so that policymakers do not force changes that could erase their sustainable fishery or unravel their heritage and way of life.

This dubiousness has served the fishery well. During the 1980s and 1990s, scientific experts warned of an imminent collapse of the lobster fishery, rife with dire predictions. But this science was incomplete, and as a result, disconnected from fishermen’s firsthand observations of an expanding and healthy lobster population. The lobster industry demanded better science, and as a result, modeling techniques were greatly expanded and were able to tell a more complete and more accurate story of the health of the lobster resource, which went on to experience a historic boom.

This is not dissimilar to the present controversy over the impact of the Maine lobster fishery on North Atlantic right whales. Maine lobstermen have witnessed that oceanographic changes have shifted the distribution of endangered right whales away from the waters where they fish. Observed deaths have spiked in Canada because these whales are now feeding there. Yet U.S. whale protection policy does not account for this. Fishermen should be applauded for calling for more expanded scientific research and demanding that sources of documented harm to these whales be eliminated before policymakers set an irreversible course to eliminate the world’s most sustainable fishery and Maine’s fishing heritage.

The hardworking men and women who make up Maine’s lobster industry are more than a bully versus a visionary. They are a diverse group of gritty, salt of the earth people with widely varying political views, all of whom care deeply about our oceans and our planet. While there may be tension, there is tolerance and a place for everyone, and there is a commitment to continue to steward our oceans and our planet as they have for nearly two centuries.


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