Friday, July 24, 2009

Lobster War: does a "cooling off" period make sense?

After last week's lobsterman-on-lobsterman shooting on Matinicus, the Maine Department of Marine Resources moved to close the island's lobster fishery for two weeks: a "cooling off period."

Thankfully, DMR has backed down, agreeing to reopen the fishery on July 27th, but one wonders how such a decision ever got made in the first place. Punishing an entire community for the actions of one of its members is problematic, of course, but it's also unclear how this policy could ever have achieved its aim. If other island fishermen indeed needed to "cool off," depriving them of their livelihood and occupation at the height of the lobster season and leaving them stewing away in the village together would seem counter-productive.

It's been a tough year for Maine lobstermen. Prices collapsed last fall, exacerbated (oddly enough) by the Icelandic banking collapse. They remain are so low some lobstermen have started pulling their traps and there's been an expensive conversion to sinking lines to protect Atlantic right whales. Apparently tensions are mounting in some areas of the coast. Only last week, I had a call from the Lincoln County News seeking historical context for an apparent trap cutting war on the Damariscotta River. Disputes on the water, I said, rarely escalated to shootings. Matinicus' Chris Young was shot in the neck five days later.

Image (c) 2009 Colin Wooodard

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