The head of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association spoke at the Maine Restaurant & Lodging Expo in Portland Wednesday about threats she said could erase Maine’s lobster industry and hurt the hospitality industry along with it.

Association Executive Director Patrice McCarron said the lobster industry is a driver of local economies, with 4,800 vessel owners running independent small businesses, and collectively providing 10,000 jobs on the boats alone, many of those jobs irreplaceable in remote coastal areas.

And the industry is booming – it shattered sales records with $725 million in landings last year – and represents 80 percent of the value of all fisheries in Maine.

According to a 2018 study by Colby College Professor of Economics Michael Donihue, the lobster supply chain supported 5,500 jobs and contributed another $967.7 million in 2016 through the spending of wholesale distributors, processors, wharfs, pounds and co-ops. He called Maine’s iconic lobster industry “possibly the most economically important asset for the state.”

“With all that’s going so well for us, how could we possibly be looking at our fishing heritage being erased?” McCarron asked the audience. “The reason for that is the North Atlantic right whale.”

She argued that the federal government’s 10-year plan to save the endangered whale from extinction, by requiring the lobster industry to dramatically reduce the risk of whales becoming entangled in its fishing gear by 2030, is based on flawed science and would ultimately wipe out the fishery. McCarron described all the modifications fishermen have already made over the years – replacing 27,000 miles of floating line with sinking line, adding more traps per buoy line to remove another 3,000 miles of rope from the water, and adding weak links to allow ropes to break away if a whale becomes entangled.


While Maine lobstermen are complying with the modifications in the current phase of the 10-year plan set to go into effect May 1, McCarron said, there are much greater threats on the horizon when later phases of the 10-year plan are rolled out in 2025 and 2030.

The solutions proposed to bring the industry to the required 98 percent risk reduction involve adopting expensive acoustical, ropeless gear that she said is not yet commercially available, nor is it reliable.

We’re working with fishermen on new gear modifications, simple solutions, lower tech solutions, cost-effective solutions so our fishery can be what it always has been: You don’t have to come from a rich family, you can just come with a work ethic and get in the stern of a boat,” McCarron said. “Setting Maine into a high-tech fishing model is going to create winners and losers, and is going to risk our owner-operator model because there will probably be a lot of pressure for consolidation because it’s going to take big money to run a ropeless operation.”

She said the lobstermen’s association has had to sue the federal government, claiming that the 10-year plan was based on flawed science. They say the population models used were based on worst-case-scenario assumptions that the circumstances that caused an “unusual (right whale) mortality event” beginning in 2017 would continue throughout the 10-year period.

Other threats to the whales need to be addressed, she said, such as vessel strikes and entanglement in Canadian fishing gear, which account for the bulk of whale deaths. Only two entanglements have been traced to Maine gear, in 2002 and 2004, and no whale deaths caused by Maine gear have been documented, McCarron said.

The association also is intervening in a lawsuit against the federal government by environmental organizations that McCarron said would like to shut the fishery down immediately. The lobstermen group has launched the Save Maine Lobstermen campaign because the industry needs $1 million per year to fight its legal battles and to fund more scientific research about right whales and find solutions, she said.


Attendees were worried by the presentation.

“Lobster is our bread and butter,” said Hannah Leeman, representing Robinson’s Wharf in Southport, a wholesale lobster wharf and restaurant bar with a small seafood market and gift shop. “We’re even nervous right now from a restaurant point of view at the high lobster prices – we’re looking at $40 dollar lobster rolls on the lower end.”

“It’s going to devastate Maine businesses’ bottom line,” said Stephanie Hawke, of Boothbay Harbor. “When there’s 10,000 people that work on the boats, that is a lot of workers that you would be losing, plus what you would sell plus the side things that come with it, so you take that and the restaurants and the lobster shacks and the bait drivers, it’s billions of dollars. It could flatten Maine.”

Kathleen Pierce, director of member experience for industry group HospitalityMaine, said Wednesday’s expo attracted 300 attendees from as far away as Aroostook County. In addition to hotels and restaurants represented, it had a wide range of vendors, from potato farmers to carpeting companies.

“Lobster is central to Maine’s hospitality industry and our annual Expo is the perfect forum to discuss such issues,” said Pierce.

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