By Reps. Billy Bob Faulkingham and Will Tuell
Unless you have had your head stuck in a bait pocket the past few months, you know by now that Maine’s lobster fishing industry is facing two major crises — a shortage of available and affordable bait, as well as a set of new rules and regulations designed to protect rare right whales while at the same time devastating the very fishermen who have fueled our local and state economy for generations. While both are dire, the “whale rules,” as they are known to fishermen up and down the coast, are the most pressing issue facing lobstering from Kittery to Eastport in our lifetimes and will dramatically affect the future of each of our coastal districts for generations to come.
This past week our entire federal congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden — joined with Governor Janet Mills, and a wide range of representatives from the lobster industry, to say that one-size fits all rules, federal mandates and speculative science should not mean the end of the coastal way of life.
We each come from fishing communities — places where our families and friends make their living on the water, go to church on a lobster boat, buy and sell lobsters, traps, gear or serve the fishing community. Fishing is not just a part of our coastal communities; it is so tightly woven into the fabric of them, we have no other alternative but to fight for the industry so many of our friends and neighbors depend upon to make ends meet.
That is why it is so refreshing to see folks across the political spectrum — arch-foes on many things — united with fishermen (who themselves have been splintered over the years) to put our fishing industry first. To do that, we cannot fight as Democrats, Republicans, independents, supporters of the lobster union or the lobstermen’s association, but as one community with one single purpose of pushing back against something none of us believes is necessary.
Every fisherman on the water today deserves that. Whether you just got your license and are trying to break into the industry or are an old hand who has raised kids, grandkids, nephews and nieces by getting up every morning at 3 a.m., hauling hundreds of traps, dealing with breakdowns, gear conflicts, all sorts of weather and lousy prices. Our fishing industry is already one of the most regulated, most conservation-minded, proactive natural resources industries out there, and adding more onto that must only be done as a last resort, and then only with the support and blessing of the men and women who work these waters.
Our Department of Marine Resources has been to every part of the state, listened to hundreds if not thousands of fishermen, worked with industry groups, inter-state policymakers, scientists with years of experience in marine biology, and is as convinced as we are, as convinced as the fishermen we represent are, that we must exhaust all our efforts in preserving a strong, safe, dynamic fishing industry that will continue to fuel Maine’s economy while preserving our marine ecology for the next crop of fishermen.
What happens on the water doesn’t just affect one family or a few families. In places like Prospect Harbor or Bucks Harbor, it affects every family, every business in town from the local restaurant to the car mechanic to the real estate office. It affects carpenters, retailers and yes, even the Little League, food bank or a hundred other community groups that hold our small towns together. “We are all in this together” might seem overused, but nowhere is this truer than in Maine’s lobster fishery. Whatever else happens over the next few months, we must remain united, focused and willing to work with those who are willing to work with us. Otherwise we are done before we start.
Republican Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham of Winter Harbor represents Maine House District 136, which includes Gouldsboro, Hancock, Mariaville, Osborn, Sorrento, Steuben, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor, Fletchers Landing Township and part of East Hancock. Republican Rep. Will Tuell of Machias represents House District 139, which includes Cutler, East Machias, Eastport, Lubec, Machias, Machiasport, Roque Bluffs and Whiting, plus the unorganized territory of Trescott Township.