By Sheila Dassett
This article gives me a chance to express what it is like to be a fishing family in this day and age. I do not want to spread gloom and doom all of the time, and I will not. The big part of our maritime lives is trying to accept and conform with the “change” that is happening in our 21st Century World. As my Dad got older, coming from the Great Generation and a World War II Veteran, he would say to me, “I just want to fish!” So we did our best to make those last years of his life just that. I love that generation! When did it all have to get so complicated?
As time marched on, we dealt with rules that came along with over fishing. Now, the population has grown and we became more aware of the latest and greatest technology on our boats that show us depth, the bottom for setting gear, radars that took the place of the compasses, even stereo radios and CD players. Wow, now we need to catch more fish or lobster in order to cover all of our overhead. Our boats have doubled in size and the engines cost more than the houses that we lived in when we started out in our adult lives. This is how times have changed over the generations, “the American Dream.” This is all what we have become accustomed to. This is all fine, as long as our resource is there for the taking and longevity over time. “Life is Good.”
Now, comes along our folks that feel that we need to protect our endangered species, which is not just whales. In recent years, our shrimp season is closed, our scallops are limited, the urchins were over fished and are just now starting to come back. Our herring season has been cut just about in half and the price has sky rocketed for a barrel of the silver gems. Our ground fishery is just now making a comeback after all of these more recent years of “over fishing.” This year, almost everyone that I have spoken to that is out there on the water, is saying that their catch is about half of what it was last year at this time. I’m talking about the lobsters. Have they started their molt? It has been a real unusual year that way. Is it because we’re trying to catch them on different bait sources instead of the precious herring? Or is the lobster count really down this year? We will not know until the final tally at the end of the season.
How many of you are enrolled in automatic deduction payment plans? Modern way of paying our bills so we don’t have to think about it, right? When we’re not catching lobsters and our overhead is high, that system can be a nightmare. For the average fisherman, we cannot fall back on those convenient plans for making payments. Personally, I have made payment arrangements for a certain day of the month and found myself on the phone, saying please don’t deduct it until I can make the payment. Am I alone with this scenario? I remember when my grandparents would have envelopes set aside each month with cash in them for the monthly payments. They had to remember to pay them and most likely went to the office of the utility company and paid them in person. I remember going with my grandmother to do just that. It was routine and responsibility all in one. We didn’t have to pay for dumpsters, cell phones, TV reception, Internet, credit card payments, and so on.
Now, as I read through my messages (social media), I’m seeing that clammers need air boats because they are no longer welcome to cross people’s land to get to the flats. This is another expense that we never had. Remember when a new boat was launched and the entire town was there to cheer it on? Not any more…..trust me, we’ve been there and done that. The big questions now is “how long are you going to be on that dock, we have a yacht coming in that has paid for that slip.” Have you experienced that one yet? It is all part of it, and these are the changes that I have struggled with accepting. We have gone to meetings to speak for a new fishery to come into the community and been told to my face that I am stupid. These are the same folks that do not seem to feel that the fisherman is also an endangered specie. Are they contributing to the lost time and effort that we are all putting in to defend ourselves at the recent meetings? Not likely.
I am confused, because for as much as were are adding aquaculture to our coastal waters to supplement for our lack of product to feed all of us, these green minded folks are against a larger company of the same nature from coming into the community with an on land operation. There has been a lot of misinformation that frankly, has people pushing to close the upper Penobscot Bay to fishing. We have had double standard protests on a lot of these projects. How can we save the fishermen, but be against a project that could be a food source and now possibly a bait source for the fishing community? Have you been really watching how this is all playing out? Be careful who you follow.
As far as shipping our products out of the country, we have been told that there is a great need in these forty-eight states. A lot of folks would love to have a lobster roll or the lazy man lobster dish that is so popular. When they come to Maine, the first thing that they want to see is the lobster boats and eat a lobster while they are here. Yes, we are a scarce bunch on the coast, and we need to hang on to our heritage as long as we can. What is an oxymoron? I think it is when society loves us but wants us out of the way in the name of progress and prosperity. The American Dream.
Yes, we are the endangered species. Every time I hear about a fatality or injury on the boat, it usually has to do with some of the changes in gear configurations and rope issues. Now, with the new suggestions that are coming out, the safest location will be the quarter mile closest to the shore. The rest of it will be quite dangerous in a lot of cases.
I have the whale rules that were the “final rule” from 2005 to 2007. The books are very thick and quite in depth. How many times can we re-invent the wheel? This will be an ongoing issue, much like the unrest in the Middle East. It goes on and on. Who are the ones that will benefit from this? Go figure.