ROCKLAND, Maine — The Maine Lobstermen’s Association hosted a meeting Tuesday to educate midcoast state legislative candidates on issues facing the industry.
Gathering at Rockland City Hall, the candidates were given a primer on lobster fishing reduction, lobster economics and industry conservation.
“Our job is to advocate for the lobster fishing industry,” said MLA Executive Director Patrice McCarron at the outset. “We are politically active, and I think over time we have developed a reputation for being fair and proactive.”
Throughout the two-hour session candidates listened or asked a few questions and did not try to debate any issues, including challenges to the industry of federal whale and bait rules, working waterfront, profitability and conservation.
McCarron identified the 1,200-member MLA as a statewide lobster fishing organization that’s been around since 1954 and one that does not duck out on issues but faces them squarely.
“Our philosophy is that it is really better to be at the table, no matter how tough the issues are,” she said.
McCarron urged legislators and candidates to take time to reflect when making policy decisions that affect the livelihood of others.
“Ask yourselves where the goal posts are,” she said. “For me they’re the important things in this fishery.”
The coastline is structured into seven lobster management zones from Kittery to Eastport, and each zone has a council with locally elected representatives, she explained.
“We try to focus on issues at all levels, but there are the zone councils to take care of local stuff,” she said. “The councils are made up of local people elected by their peers.”
The lobster industry in Maine has more than 6,700 licensed people, and 5,800 of those are regular licensees. Another 900 are students or apprentices or people who are working their way in.
“It’s very important for us to have a way for young people to get into this fishery,” she said.
About 75 percent of the members fish within three miles of shore and have a state only license, which means they can’t cross a three-mile line.
About 25 percent, or 1,400 people, are federally permitted, which means they can cross that state water line and fish offshore, she said.
Lobster landings spike between July and November and are quite low the remainder of the year. Last year Maine lobstermen landed more than 63 million pounds worth $280 million, which McCarron called a very strong year.
Record landings took place in 2006 with 75 million pounds valued at $318 million, according to state records.
“There are more people in the fishery, working less, and the pie is being sliced a little smaller,” she said.
On the other hand, the midcoast area has had 31 percent of the landings. Hancock County has been growing.
Knox County has more of the landings and less of the licenses, she said. The southern part of the state is suffering, for they are landing fewer lobsters with more people.
“Midcoast Maine remains the shining light of the industry,” she said. “Down East Maine has been growing.”
On profitability, she said that over time it’s taken from a half a pound to three-quarters of a pound of lobster to buy a gallon of fuel. Now it’s well over a pound of lobster to buy a gallon of fuel.
“That sort of mushrooms out in the business, because everything they do depends on the price of fuel.
“It’s just not fuel that’s gone up. It’s everything,” she said.
Among candidates and legislators attending were Chuck Kruger, candidate for House District 48; Joan Walsh of Rockport; state Rep. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland; Rep. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston; candidate Helen Shaw, Rockport; Ann Matlack of St. George, candidate for Knox County budget committee; Rep. Wes Richardson of Warren, representing District 49; and Rep. David Miramont, D-Camden.