By Sheila Dassatt
How many of us remember the game Simple Simon Says? The person in charge has to say “Simon says” stand on one leg, if they don’t say “Simon says” and you do it, you are eliminated from the round. Do the kids still play that game any more, I don’t know. There is a song called “Simple Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Company from the “60’s that Mike and I used to play when we did music for weddings. We played it for the kids. The adults had more fun with it, especially after a little too much punch! We really enjoyed those days and watching everyone enjoying themselves. It was a hoot!
Okay, how does this tie in with the marine industry, namely the lobster industry? Well, for years now, the associations and government have been trying to find a solution to harmony with the longevity of the right whales, or perhaps whales in general. I have been involved for eighteen years now, and we’re still working at solutions for survival for all. This past year, especially with the economy as bad as it is, the overhead just to fish is astronomical. In some ports, the bait is as much as over $300 a day, just for the small boats and fuel is between $5.00 and $6.00 a gallon. For the bigger boats, it is around $1,000 a day just to leave the dock. Now if we do the math, at around $3.00 to $3.40 a pound for lobsters to the boat, we have to catch quite a few lobsters just to pay the sternmen and then what is left over goes to the boat.
Now let’s talk about the modifications to the ropes to make them whale compliant. Last year everyone put the required purple in their ropes and the little piece of green for the offshore ropes. This all took time and the availability of purple rope was just not always available. So we had to paint a portion of the rope purple, or use purple cable ties or purple heading twine woven into the ropes. If you fish the 800 trap limit, that’s a lot of rope work. This is all in compliance with the mandatory whale rules. If we wanted to fish, we did it.
This year, the manufacturer’s needed to come up with plastic breakaways to add to the mixture on the ropes or do special knots to make the rope break in certain places. So this all had to be re-worked. “Simon says, put breakaways in now”…then if that doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board…wait, I didn’t say “Simon says!” So you’re out of this round. Start over again. This is how I see it from my point of view.
With the profit margin being this low to the fisherman, have we done any math as to how much all of these modifications cost? Again, one breakaway is in the range of a dollar a piece, then there are the special rope configurations and if you’re lucky, you will find purple rope. Our purple rope that we had on order never came in, so we did the best that we could. It would be at least an extra several thousand dollars just to rig this rope, not to mention all of the labor that is involved. I would have to say that we have been more than compliant with working with the whale rules and all that the government is asking us to do. Our livelihoods depend on this.
As a fishery, we do need to work together if we are going to get through this game of “Simon Says.” It is like a game of dominoes, the dealers need the fishermen, the fishermen need the dealers, the dealers need the truckers, who are also paying the price of higher fuel to transport the lobsters. How are the lobsters going to get to the processors without the trucks for transportation? I know this is like playing a record over and over again, but we need to fish smart not more if we are going to work together and survive this year’s economy. All of us have a little give and take and we can make it if we work together instead of letting all of the anger get the best of us.
This has been the year of frustration and fear, I’m sure, not knowing if we have a future in the fishery or not. We are all known as stewards of the ocean, and would be the first ones to feel terrible if we hurt a whale. The big part of the frustration is that we are being held accountable for an issue that has not been proven since 2004. How does a person know that the ropes don’t work, reconfigure them again, if they have not even encountered a whale since 2004? Go back to Simon I guess……this is a big part of the problem, we deserve the respect and proper funding for all of the work that has been done and we are still doing. Where do we fit into the equation of a $40.00 lobster roll? They seem to be big this year and people are paying the price for them. Let’s figure this out before it’s too late. We deserve a little more explanation for our efforts.
The explanation that I’ve heard is that with Covid-19, they found other sources to promote our lobsters, such as supermarkets, cooking them at home, etc., Well now, all of these sources that were closed are opened up, such as cruise ships, restaurants, take out shacks and traveling food wagons. Just for an example, there is a popular take out that features lobster rolls. Our daughter took a video of the long lines that were waiting there to buy one of these lobster rolls, it was unbelievable! People are here, they are visiting Maine and are eating our lobsters (and I presume, lovin’ it)!
It only seems fair, since a lobsterman cannot set his own price for his lobsters, (unless selling them on the side of the road), that we should have a compensated and fair price for our efforts. “Simon says that you will receive $3.00 a pound for your product,” as an example. We are being hit from every direction, whales, windmills, inflation, low prices for our product while people are loving our product that we are well-known for. Can you imagine what Maine would be like if the lobstermen were no longer here? Tourists would be coming to Maine to visit shops that belong to other tourists that have moved here. “Simon says, just imagine.”