Imperiled Maine lobstering draws support thru fundraising events

By D. Allan Kerr

A fundraiser in the small, seaside town of Kittery raised nearly $23,000 for Maine’s lobstermen. Similar events in other lobstering communities like Ogunquit and Vinalhaven previously brought in more than $50,000 in recent months.

Which is all pretty cool, especially as lobstering faces one of the most perilous moments in its history.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association needs $10 million to defend the industry from flawed federal regulations based on faulty science and incomplete data, which are threatening the future of the state’s lobster fleet.

Communities around the state have an opportunity to show their support for one of Maine’s most celebrated and iconic professions by pitching in.

Residents of the state’s oldest town stepped up in a big way on Feb. 26 during the “Chowder’s On” event at the Kittery Community Center.

The sold-out luncheon of lobster stew, clam chowder, pies and desserts was followed by live and silent auctions of items donated by businesses too numerous to list in this modest space.

Perhaps more important than the money raised was the visual display of a town of 10,000 people rallying behind their own.

“We have seen tremendous support in so many communities, but the outpouring of support in the Kittery area was truly heartening,” said Kevin Kelley, director of advancement for the lobstermen’s association.

Other events supporting the effort are already scheduled or planned, he noted, including one at Robinson’s Wharf in Southport on March 10 and another at the Phippsburg Sportsman’s Club on March 25. The city of Auburn is planning a Lobster Festival later this year.

Ken Lemont, a Kittery lobsterman who has served as a state senator, town councilor and president of the local school board, said the community has long championed the lobster industry but is especially supportive now.

“Those that I had a chance to talk with had an understanding of the issues for their local lobstermen and asked very specific questions to further understand the possible onerous changes that could cause hardship for the industry,” Lemont said.

A 10-year plan imposed by the federal government in 2021 to protect the North Atlantic right whale has set what the lobstermen’s association calls “an unachievable goal” of a 98% reduction of the fishery’s risk to the endangered species.

Then last year, two watchdog groups lowered the industry’s environmental rating, prompting businesses including the Whole Foods Supermarket chain to stop carrying Maine lobsters.

The actions by the watchdogs and food retailers did not seem to take into account measures that lobstermen have taken for decades to ensure the continued existence of the right whale, or that no death of a right whale has ever been attributed to the Maine industry, or that no right whale entanglements had been recorded in almost 20 years.

David Kaselauskas, Betsy Wish, Charlene Hoyt

“It seems that Maine lobstermen are being charged guilty before being proven innocent,” Charlene Hoyt, one of the “Chowder’s On” organizers, told a capacity crowd at the event.

Hoyt, the wife and mother of Kittery lobstermen, put the fundraiser together along with David Kaselauskas, a lobsterman for more than half a century, and local artist/photographer Betsy Wish. Proceeds were donated to the lobstermen’s association.

The funds collected by the association are being applied to a “four-prong strategy” to counter environmental charges against the industry, focusing on legal and policy issues, science, conservation and communications.

For instance, the association is suing the National Marine Fisheries Services for allegedly not following the law when implementing regulations that could wipe out the lobstering industry.

Attorneys for the association presented their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 24, arguing that the federal agency “repeatedly applied a thumb on the scale” by basing its 10-year plan on worst-case scenarios rather than an objective examination of data.

Instead of considering “reasonable and prudent alternatives,” as directed in the Endangered Species Act, the fisheries service implemented a plan that could decimate Maine’s way of life, according to a brief filed in the case in January. The group is now waiting to hear a ruling from the three judges of the appeals court.

The remaining approaches include engaging scientists to ensure any conservation plan is based on contemporary and accurate science, developing innovate lobstering gear to protect right whales while allowing continuation of lobstering heritage and ensuring the general population understands the potential impact of losing this way of life.

After Maine’s congressional delegation and Gov. Janet Mills challenged the industry’s environmental “red-listing” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch in California and the London-based Marine Stewardship Council, lobstermen were granted a six-year pause on enforcement of the regulations, allowing time to put together their case and collect more relevant data.

Rep. Jared Golden

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat representing the state’s rural northern district, also has called for more transparency from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regarding a recent increase in dead whales washing ashore along the Atlantic Coast.

Specifically, Golden wants to know whether the deaths may be attributed to large-scale commercial, offshore wind projects rather than Maine lobstermen.

“National Marine Fisheries is not using the best available science,” the lobstermen’s association membership director, Antonina Pelletier, said during the “Chowder’s On” event.

Industry leaders say the whale population in the region is shifting toward Canadian waters because climate changes are forcing the whales’ food source northward.

Pelletier also noted lobstermen “are the original environmentalists” and keenly aware they need a sustainable ecology to remain in business.

While lobstermen in Maine’s southern region would at least have other career options if the fishery was devastated, she added, this is not the case for those in the more rural communities in northern coastal areas.

Which is why it’s important for this effort to take on a statewide approach.

“We’re also in the midst of working with organizers who are planning a big celebration of the Maine lobster industry at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, which will be held in August,” Kelley of the lobstermen’s association said.

Organizers hope to create another event this summer to support the local industry, for which the Wood Island Life Saving Station Association has offered to play host.

“I love how strongly the community rallied for our lobstermen,” Hoyt said.

Those interested in learning more about this issue can check out Save Maine Lobstermen online.

D. Allan Kerr previously worked in the lobster industry, but his favorite job was deckhand on a whale watch boat out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Follow D. Allan Kerr on Twitter @Sloth_Blog, Facebook and


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