News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 3, 2014
Young lobstermen take part in Lobster Leadership Institute

Local lobsterman explores Canadian lobster fisheries

From left to right: Sam Hyler, Chris Welch, Abe Philbrook, and (head turned) Stonington lobsterman Genevieve McDonald during a 2014 trip to Canada to view its lobster industry.

Photo courtesy of Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance

For many lobstermen, May was the time to tend the boat and get their gear ready. For 12 young lobstermen, however, May was a month of learning.

The dozen lobstermen chosen from throughout the state, including Genevieve McDonald of Stonington, took part in the first Maine Lobster Leadership Institute, organized by the Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance, according to a news release. The MLCA is the nonprofit sister organization of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, established in 2010 to foster thriving coastal communities and preserve Maine’s lobstering heritage through its education, science and charitable programs.

“As the Maine lobster industry copes with a rapidly changing fishery, keeping the industry relevant and profitable for the next generation is essential,” said Patrice McCarron, president of the MLCA. “New leaders must step up to preserve the conservation measures that are fundamental to the lobster fishery’s abundance and ensure future prosperity.”

As part of the Institute’s curriculum, 11 of the Maine lobstermen spent six days visiting lobstering communities on Prince Edward Island in Canada. The lobstermen stayed in the homes of local lobstering families, lobstered on 27 different boats, and toured two lobster processing plants.

Genevieve McDonald was surprised that PEI lobstermen still use wooden traps. Each wooden trap weighs between 100 and 120 pounds. Consequently, the boats have equipment such as a crane specifically to handle the heavier traps.

“I stayed with Kevin Robertson, who showed us exceptional hospitality, and went fishing the next day out of North Lake with his brother Lonnie Robertson, and then the next day with Jamie Gauthier out of Rustico,” she said. “It was great to be able to visualize the places and people I read about in industry media.”

The minimum legal size for a lobster is different on PEI. There lobsterman can land a 72 millimeter lobster (equivalent to 2.834 inches), generally called a “canner.” Dustin Delano of Friendship had a hard time adjusting to that smaller gauge. He fished with lobsterman David Sampson out of Red Head. “He had me picking out the lobsters and I kept tossing them overboard because they were so small to me,” Delano laughed. “Finally his wife put me right.”

What struck all the young lobstermen, many of whom had never visited Canada before, was the tremendous friendliness they experienced. “I was a little apprehensive that they might not be so welcoming to us because we are supposedly in competition,” said Cyrus Sleeper of Spruce Head. “But really, we are competing with the market, not with each other.”

The Maine Lobster Leadership Institute received support for the inaugural class from the Davis Conservation Foundation, Sewall Foundation and Maine Lobstermen’s Association.