By Sheila Dassatt
When I say “Lost Generation,” a lot of folks will say, “what does she mean by that?” Well, we have had decades of wars that lasted the same duration as the best years of a young man or woman’s life. Some never did come back home, or came home in a flag covered casket. It wasn’t that long ago, at least in my memory, that when a young man was a senior in high school, he either planned to go to college, Canada or the armed forces, and if you didn’t choose any of those options, the Selective Service decided for you, or better known as the Draft. This was still in force when I graduated high school in 1973, which was the Vietnam War at that time. The choices that we had were a lot different than today’s society.
When most of the servicemen and women came home from their active duty, a lot stepped into the fishing industry. This goes back a long ways, but usually they fished before they left, when they were growing up, and then came back and resumed their fishing occupation. Only this time, they also had families of their own. They not only came home from the hard times of war, but became parents and needed to make an honest living on the sea. Of course, I am referring to our fishing families in this article. There are many different occupations that they came home to, but in this case, it is our Fishing Industry.
As time went on, we practiced the strictest conservation rules to maintain a healthy lobster population. A big gang of traps back in the 30’s was probably 150 traps, a wooden boat and a skiff with oars. The engines that powered these beautiful boats usually came out of a car, such as an Oldsmobile or Chrysler product. Life was good!
I had a lobster license in 1993, which I still carry, just because I was proud of it! At that time, I was able to simply go to the Department of Marine Resources and purchase my lobster license. I purchased it so I could go on the boat and help out Dad that year due to the fact that he had cancer surgery. It was in the fall, the best time of the year for good hauls, so Mike and I took his boat out and finished the season that year. That also was what fishing families would do to help keep the family business going. It was generational and also part of family tradition. It was just what you did. That’s how we were all taught.
It wasn’t too long after that, the decision was made to break the Maine Coast in designated Zones and limit the purchase of lobster licenses. Let the regulations begin! If I didn’t renew my lobster license, I had to apprentice under another fisherman and be put on a waiting list for my license. This was in the 90’s. Instead of limiting licenses, everyone ran out and got a license before the time limit was up. This created more licenses for a while! I didn’t renew mine because Dad was back on the boat and I didn’t think I needed it. Well, a lot of us thought we would be able to wait it out and get one in the near future. I didn’t realize how long the wait was going to be and how long the list was.
This goes back to another “Lost Generation” in the next step of the title. There were a lot of young folks that were on the wait list, but their circumstances were dire for their fishing future. During this time, father’s wanted to retire or passed away, leaving their fishing operation sitting in the yard, because their son or daughter was still on the waiting list. Some young people were raised by just their mother and did not have a mentor to help them establish their fishing operation. This left them going stern forever or so it seemed.
This was one of the issues that we have worked on with the associations and representatives in Augusta. A lot of work has been done to move forward with this situation. There were hearings in Augusta concerning the wait list, in which we heard some pretty sad testimonies from a generation that wants to fish and continue on with their family tradition, but had to sit it out on a waiting list and pick a different occupation in the meantime. Progress has been done with this…letters went out to latent license holders, some on the list were deceased, or sent back notice that they wanted to be removed from the list. The Zones voted to change some of their exit and enter ratio as well. It isn’t an instant cure, but it is helping.
Now, in 2021, we have a generation that had a year with Zoom schooling and computer classrooms as well as isolation. An entire senior year, which a student spent 12 or 13 years building up to, is supposed to be one of the best years of their lives and not much happened, such as Commencement or Senior Balls, as one example. Some of these students have found it so difficult, that their grades have dropped and they may have diminished opportunities for their future.
Where am I going with this? At least in the fishery, we can still try to make a living. These young people can still find themselves on a fishing vessel, and now we are facing a shutdown due to Whale Rules and Restrictions due to pending Wind Power. Where does it begin and end for each generation? Is it time to say enough is enough for our livelihoods and try to make it possible for our next generation to be able to continue onward and move forward? One of the things that I am referring to is the uncertainty of the fishing industry itself, such as people being against every aspect of it. We have people that are against fish pens, against fish farms on land, against aquaculture in general, saying that it is going to take up too much shore frontage and fishing grounds. If you add wind mills and underwater cables to the mix, what is going to be left? Will we be pushed out of making a living? As we speak, we have little fellas being born and some just starting to learn the trade starting with their 10 traps. Are we going to let big business such as ropeless fishing gear take the place of how we have fished for generations? To replace our traditional gear with the ropeless equipment, the cost is astronomical! Who is going to pay for this brainstorm? In some areas, especially Downeast, there isn’t a lot of opportunity for large industry jobs or market sprawl. I certainly would like to think that mankind will take an honest look at this and do what is best for all of us. We still need to make a living, we still need to provide food and need to eat, even in the midst of saving the earth and the creatures in it. We are all in this together.