All four candidates for governor pledged to defend Maine’s $434 million-a-year lobster industry a week before regulators consider new rules that could severely affect the industry.

Specifically, the candidates addressed aggressive right whale protections that environmental groups are seeking in court from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, proposals such as moving from a rope-based industry to a ropeless fishery, seasonal closures of western Gulf of Maine lobster fishing in April, and cutting in half the number of traps or vertical lines that could entangle whales.

Independent Alan Caron, Democrat Janet Mills, Republican Shawn Moody and independent Terry Hayes took turns answering some questions, dodging others and hailing the importance of Maine fisheries on Thursday at a forum on the seafood industry in Rockland attended by about 150 people and watched live online by more than 1,000 others.

Moody, a self-made millionaire from Gorham, called the concept of ropeless fishing a joke, something “you can’t even say with a straight face,” which pleased all the lobstermen in the audience. Caron, a political strategist, said NOAA doesn’t understand the whale problem well enough yet to take drastic actions against the fishery that could hurt the Maine economy and put people out of work.

Clockwise from top left: Alan Caron, Terry Hayes, Shawn Moody, Janet Mills

Hayes, Maine’s state treasurer, said Maine must tell its side of the whale story – that Canadian lobster and crab gear is responsible for most entanglements that kill or injure the endangered species – to win “the hearts and minds” of the public, especially those who buy seafood, as well as in the courtroom. Mills, the state attorney general, said her office will be filing a legal brief in the right whale case, which was submitted to court by three environmental groups back in January.

The candidates weighed in on the U.S.-China trade war, which has resulted in 25 percent tariffs on U.S. lobster exports and prompted Chinese buyers to buypurchase the popular middle-class celebration meal from Canadian dealers instead. Moody said the tariffs are painful for lobstermen now, but are good for the country over the long run. Caron, however, wasn’t so sure the sacrifice would pay off for Maine, and that there might be sustained damage to the industry from the trade policy. Hayes called the tariff a challenge and an opportunity.

“There’s going to be a short-term pain for the long-term gain,” Moody said. “I’ve talked to fishermen about this. They understand it. They don’t like it, but the reality is we have to fix those trade agreements. They were not good for America. They were not good for our long-term sustainability, wage growth. I support the tariffs. … They’re going to have to look for other markets.”

Hayes reminded the audience that state officials can lobby on behalf of the industry when it comes to trade policy, but play no central role in setting policy. While federal officials sort that out, the governor should be helping the industry identify new markets and expand the state’s lobster processing capabilities, which will create more value-added products with a longer shelf life that can be shipped to a bigger number of new markets.

Mills left the two-hour forum about an hour into the discussion, before the tariff question was asked, to attend a previously scheduled event in Portland.

The candidates staked out different positions on state funding of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, a state-organized but industry-funded group that was just reauthorized by lawmakers this year. Fishermen, dealers and processors have begun pushing the state to kick in money to match the surcharge added to state fishing licenses to fund the group, something that other states and countries underwrite to promote their signature seafood industries.

“You bet I would,” Caron said of committing state funds. “I’ve been talking about the need to market the great things we do a lot harder. I like that we do marketing for tourism. We don’t market the rest of the stuff as much as we need to. It has to come out of the private sector primarily, but there can be a big state role. … We’ve got a great story to tell. We’ve got to start telling it, not only from the governor, but through marketing and advertising of every sort.”

Hayes said she would probably support state funding for lobster marketing, but would want to see the plan for how that money would be spent to make sure it was getting results. She said she would like to see the money spent trying to grow additional markets, especially for processed lobster products. Moody didn’t talk specifically about state funding for marketing, but said any marketing done should be dynamic and address the industry’s well-known labor shortages.

The candidates were eager to endear themselves to the fishing community. Mills informed the crowd that her family had arrived on Stonington’s shores, the heart of the Maine lobster industry, before it moved inland. Moody touted his blue-collar roots, which plays well among Maine’s lobstermen. Caron did the same, talking about his hard-knocks upbringing and his role in launching Portland’s Waterfront Alliance.

Hayes admitted she was a fisheries newcomer, but said she was eager to learn, and, based on the statistics she cited in the forum, had already started doing so.

The candidates fielded a dozen other questions from the organizing groups and audience members, ranging from the Department of Marine Resources commissioner’s job – Hayes would like to keep Patrick Keliher, and Moody said he had heard good things about him – to offshore wind projects, which fishing groups have opposed but these candidates seemed unwilling to write off. Caron said he “can’t close the door on offshore wind.” Hayes said it should be explored “carefully.”

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.