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Lobstering under attack

A few weeks ago, Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) met with several dozen concerned citizens in Ellsworth for updates on Maine’s offshore wind proposals. The man facing that audience was grim-faced, fatigued and struggling for the proper words to express his apparent anxiety.

A husband, a father of three and a longtime lobsterman out of Winter Harbor, Faulkingham, who also serves on the Joint Standing Committee for Marine Resources, has been a strong voice of reason in our Legislature for many efforts at bettering our state, but primarily for working to protect Maine’s lobstering industry.

As Faulkingham described it, three seemingly combined forces are aligned and have put the bull’s-eye on the men and women in Maine whose lives depend on lobstering – whales, warming and wind power.

The right whale protection consortium has heightened its efforts to alter nearly every aspect of Maine’s primary (and most significant) fishing industry by pushing the federal fisheries agencies to limit, reduce and even eliminate the fishing methods currently employed in the local waters and the Gulf of Maine despite several studies indicating negligible right whale incidents within these waters over the last few years. At best, the supposed science is leaning toward saving whales, with little regard for the men and women who are active conservationists every day while doing their jobs.

The warming water folks, often the same groups and agencies that are involved with the right whale restrictions, also want to promote bureaucratic rules that will severely impact all forms of fishing in Maine’s coastal waters.

Since Faulkingham’s presentation, forces in Augusta reached a compromise on the wind power issue – not an out and out win for the fishermen, but something far better than a kick in the teeth. With Governor Mills agreeing, the signed bill protects Maine’s ocean waters within 3 miles, while stalling wind power development for several years and potentially pushing it further out to sea. Given that the University of Maine and Maine Maritime Academy are heavily invested in ocean wind power development, forgive those skeptics who believe the recent legislation is only a short-term remedy to a growing issue.

The planned floating wind towers, over 700 feet above the horizon at blade peak, with several chain anchors consisting of links that are each the size of a pickup truck’s bed, stretching out over the ocean floor at a scope of 7-1 (length to depth ratio), it’s hard to fathom how much of an impact this chafing will have on the sea-bottom (where lobsters generally reside) as well as what the sound will be like for all other marine life. Add giant whirring blades above the waterline and offshore wind sounds like a mega-marine life destroyer.

For fishermen like Billy Bob Faulkingham, and fisherwomen, the ocean is the last frontier – the last space where man is still reminded of his shortcomings, how his mistakes could alter his life, yet still be allowed to work as hard as he/she wants for their just reward. Lobstering is not just tradition for many along our coast; the salt water is in their bones, part of their spirit and their calling. Most fisherman regard this sanctity with deep respect and will do whatever they can to pass it on to the next generation, and the generations after that.

Maine has seen its lumbering and papermaking industries fundamentally changed, leaving mere fractions of once vibrant jobs and the towns where they worked. The textile mills and shoe-shops in Biddeford, Saco, Auburn, Lewiston, Augusta, Brunswick – almost any large town along a river – have all been erased.

Change and progress are often interlopers; someone gains, someone suffers. Rarely does everyone win.

Will the venerable Maine lobster fisherman survive the assault of whales, warming and wind? Thank goodness the Pilgrims at Plymouth had Maine fishermen to save them, as the cod from Damariscove Island ensured that all of those Brewsters, Smiths and other English families survived.

At a time when too many institutions are disappointing failures, when too many aspects of life are insincere or fake, it should be vital to have the lobstermen and women remain more than an iconic Maine symbol, but a relevant, vibrant part of our overall economy and our coastal communities for many more generations.

Tim Plouff of Otis is retired from a 30-year career in the energy sector. He writes The Ellsworth American’s weekly auto review column.