Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fishing job losses, what's the cause?

Here's a sad and gritty story about fishermen leaving Maine. The cause? Other fishermen, or lobstermen to be precise.

This clash of fishing clans may put the final nail in the coffin of the traditional groundfish fishery in Maine. You'd think that lobstermen would give their groundfish brethren a hand in their time of need, but it it's not working out that way.

The issue is what to do with lobsters caught in bottom trawl nets. In Massachusetts and elsewhere, groundfish draggers (fishermen who catch fish by dragging trawl nets) can sell lobsters they catch while going after cod, haddock or other groundfish. It's incidental catch that helps pay the bills. As groundfish decline, lobsters are important sources of income to groundfish fishermen.

But lobster is king in Maine, and the lobster industry has made competition from trawlers illegal. You can only land lobsters caught in a trap. Last year, the state legislature considered a bill to give relief to the troubled groundfish fishery, but the power of the lobster industry crushed the bill.

So...Maine groundfish boats are selling their catch in Massachusetts, or moving to Massachusetts, so they can sell the lobsters. This exodus may spell the end of the Portland fish auction, the best place for fishermen to sell their catch in Maine, where business is down to about 10% of historic levels.

The lobstermen have a point, overfishing is really what killed the groundfish industry, not bans on selling lobsters, but if fishermen want a helping hand from others when they're in need, how about helping out your brethren?

Maybe the lobster industry will be the next fishery to fall on hard times, it's not impossible. Then, will people remember how lobstermen treated their fellow fishermen when they were in need?

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