By Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham
As interstate and federal agencies move to cut use of Maine’s chief bait source — herring — by 75 percent and put in new rules to protect right whales, many of us who have fished lobsters through good times and bad face some very scary times in the next couple of years if we do not figure out a way to get the most out of every trap we put in the water. There’s talk of a trap reduction, of reducing the amount of bait we use, even of closing off valuable fishing areas for part of the year to men and women who have fished Maine waters since they could barely see over the side of the boat. Each of these will hurt Maine’s blue-collar fishing families and the towns we live in without giving anyone much hope for the future.
I am one of three fishermen on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. Each of us, regardless of party, wants the best for our industry, and each of us wants to find ways to improve that future for our kids and grandkids. That is why I am working on a bill to allow fishermen with a Class III license to double the number of crew they can legally have on board to four.
Allowing fishermen to have bigger crews will keep people who are struggling to get into the industry on the water as sternmen. Guys at the wharf are the first to lose their jobs when times get tough. This opens up more chances for them to stay in an industry they love. It also means fishermen can make better use of their time and get the most out of every trap they haul.
Some might say that it’s not as safe to have more crew. As a lifelong fisherman, I would disagree. I have seen too many people hurt or lost because they don’t have enough eyes and hands on board to help out when things get hairy. Allowing more crew, in my view, makes fishing safer.
I know others will ask how a fisherman can afford to hire additional crew when he or she can’t even afford bait. I would say every fisherman takes a chance every time he or she goes out. If you are not getting the most out of your fuel tank, your bait supply, your trap or your crew, you are already taking chances and that is only going to get worse with what is rolling down hill. So allowing fishermen to try other options, to have more crew, only makes sense. If it doesn’t work out for the industry, the Legislature can always change its mind, but we at least ought to try and see what we can do.
I say all of this as one who has worked hard to provide for my family and be involved in my community. That’s what fishermen do. When our industry is under attack, our way of life is under attack, our communities suffer. People lose their boats, houses, pride and the community loses something so many communities are fighting to get back — the quality of life we value so much here in Maine.
Please join me in urging every legislator, and Governor Mills, to support LD 676, “An Act to Simplify Maine’s Lobster Licensing System,” as I have proposed here.
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.