David Cousens, a South Thomaston lobsterman who has led the Maine Lobstermen’s Association for 27 years, is stepping down as president of the organization.

Cousens, 60, said the organization needs new leadership when it faces new challenges, including lawsuits aimed at protecting whales that become entangled in fishing lines.

He said resolving that issue will require a lot of time and effort and it will be better handled if he turns over the reins to someone else.

Besides, Cousens said Tuesday, “it’s time to step back and enjoy life a little bit.” Cousens said running the organization is a full-time job and he puts 50,000 miles a year on his pickup truck, mostly to attend meetings. The lawsuits, he said, will only add to the workload. He also tends 800 lobster traps, and his first grandchild is due to be born in a couple of weeks, he said.

Cousens will officially step down when the association holds its annual meeting March 2 in conjunction with the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockland.

The organization’s board will choose a replacement for Cousens, said Melissa Waterman, the group’s communications coordinator.

The lobstermen’s association is a powerful group in the state, and Cousens is the fourth president since its founding in 1954. He helped oversee the process that led to Maine conservation efforts, such as the v-notch to make sure egg-bearing female lobsters are returned to the sea, and establishing size limits for legal catches. Both initiatives have become regulations for the industry up and down the Atlantic Coast.

But he said the whale lawsuits are an effort to get lobstermen to fish without using rope, a complex issue that will require dozens of meetings and negotiation sessions.

“We’re doing a lot of good things in conservation, but I’m getting tired of it,” Cousens said.

Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, agreed with Cousens that the issue of the fishery’s impact on whales will be critical to its future. Whether lobster gear played any role in the deaths of 17 right whales last year, and one so far in 2018, is under scrutiny.

“The lobster industry is going to be in the crosshairs and I’m not sure it’s justified,” Keliher said.

He said the fishery is also likely to see reduced landings, so whoever succeeds Cousens will need to help lobstermen deal with changing times and a shifting economic landscape.

Cousens, said Keliher, was always a strong advocate for his fellow lobstermen.

“Whether you disagreed with Dave or not, you couldn’t disagree with his passion for the industry,” Keliher said.

Others in the industry said Cousens would be missed.

“Were it not for people like Dave Cousens, this industry wouldn’t be as strong as it is today,” said Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association.

She said Cousens, whose three sons are lobstermen, takes a long view of the industry.

“He does what he can to protect it not only for himself, but for future generations,” she said.

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