As a member of the Maine Lobstering Union and a multi-generational lobsterman from Stonington, I read with interest The Lobster Trap, a collaboration between The Boston Globe and the Portland Press Herald.

Tanner Lazaro, right, talks with Frank Thompson in the cabin of the veteran lobsterman’s boat, Obsession, on Sept. 1, his last week of summer vacation. Tanner, 15, has only ever wanted to work on the water and counts himself lucky to be learning the ropes under Thompson’s wing. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On one hand, I was impressed by the authors’ captivating storylines on the people and families who comprise our multi-generational industry and the recognition of the day-to-day challenges confronting us. People like Frank and Jean Thompson are the lifeblood of Vinalhaven’s fishing industry, and they understand the pressures that the lobster industry is enduring better than anyone.

On the other hand, I could not help viewing some of the series’ broad-brush inferences and conclusions as inaccurate, unfair and condescending. Precious few lobstermen qualify as wealthy “one-percenters,” as the authors suggest. The Maine lobsterman is not an “average worker,” and any comparison is an unfair characterization, whether made directly or by inference.

In a time of bailouts, remote working and supply chain issues, Maine lobstermen continue to risk life and limb on the North Atlantic every time they leave home. Most “average” workers do not assume the risk that, despite their best efforts, they may come home without a penny to show for them.

For too long, the Maine lobsterman has been celebrated as a symbol of rugged Down East individualism while, at the same time, being deprived of a fair share of the table price of their catch. The Maine Lobstering Union was founded on the principle that it is high time to end the “take what you are given and like it” business model that generations of Maine lobstermen have labored under for decades.

Time and again, the series’ authors suggest that many, if not most, lobstermen are turning a blind eye to climate change or the plight of the North Atlantic right whale. Like every open-membership business or labor organization, our union is made up of people of all political stripes and opinions. Maine’s lobster fishery is among the most sustainable in the world. To suggest that members of the Maine Lobstering Union, or lobstermen generally, are either ignorant about environmental science or blithely ignoring it to avoid the inevitable is wrong, and nothing could be further from the truth.

In The Lobster Trap, I was surprised to read that a “senior scientist” referenced by the authors asserts that the problem of entanglement has been “worsened by the increased strength of fishing lines” since the so-called lobster “boom” began in the late 1990s. In fact, Maine lobstermen have been complying with onerous regulations designed to protect the right whale since 1997.

My biggest takeaway from the series is that Maine lobstermen are frustrated. In that regard, the authors got it right. We are indeed frustrated that despite years of compliance with ever more onerous and costly regulations to protect the right whale and our environment, our efforts have not been rewarded. Worse, their effectiveness to date has not even been measured.

We are similarly frustrated that federal regulators do not hesitate to impose ever-more-stringent restrictions on Maine lobstermen, despite their own failure to monitor and track the whereabouts of the whales they are obliged to protect and their inability to analyze whether existing regulations are working.

We are irritated that we are often unfairly depicted as a new class of “one-percenters” who are uninformed or uncaring about the well-being of an ecosystem that we live and work in every day. Despite all its machinations at our expense, the federal government’s arbitrary and capricious rulemaking boils down to bureaucratic expedience, not science, and has done nothing to protect the magnificent creature known as the right whale from manufactured dangers.

In that respect, the Press Herald’s Sept. 5 editorial, “Our View: Whale protection plan is set up to fail” (Page D2), is on point: The federal government’s regulation of Maine’s lobstermen will do nothing to advance the well-being of the right whale. The Maine Lobstering Union is determined to advocate for rational, science-based policies that preserve Maine’s most iconic industry and protect the ocean environment and extraordinary creatures we depend on. A better understanding by policymakers and the public at large that we are pleading for good science, rather than denying it, would go a long way toward making that goal attainable.


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