Fishing lessons from Maine

  Lobster boat off Portland, Maine.

Lobster boat off Portland, Maine.

  Maine lobster traps ready to be taken on board in 1928.

Maine lobster traps ready to be taken on board in 1928.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier, by Colin Woodard, is a history of the storied Maine Coast in which the ups and downs of the fishing industry in the Pine Tree State have played a big part.

The book is a deeply researched, reported and colorful narrative. It may also be of particular interest to New Englanders now in light of the overdue restrictions just imposed on the herring fishery. There are many lessons to be gained from a study of the management and non-management of fish species in the spectacular protein factory known as the Gulf of Maine. Overfishing has led to the Maine Coast having only one major commercial species left – lobsters. Catches of such formerly lucrative species as cod, haddock and halibut are a fraction of what they were a few decades ago.

All too often fishermen blame “natural cycles’’ for fishing stocks that are collapsing because of extreme overfishing. Modern fishing techniques, including fish-finding electronic devices and bigger, better nets and boats, have had devastating impacts. Overfishing of such species as herring that are essential food for the survival of larger fish can be particularly damaging to fishing ecology.

So it was muted good news that federal regulators decided to slash catch limits by 55 percent and impose buffer zones where no commercial herring fishing would be allowed. However, many scientists think that the whole herring fishery off New England should be shut down for a while in order to save it.

“The population is stressed, and we really need to start building resiliency,” Erica Fuller, senior lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation, told the council.

Rarely does any economic interest group eschew short-term profit for long-term gain. People will almost always take the money and run. (An apparent exception is Maine’s lobstermen’s remarkably cooperative and voluntary efforts in recent years to save that fishery.) Strong measures can do wonders in saving species, as in the case of striped bass, whose revival owes much to the late Rhode Island Sen. John H. Chafee’s push for research and regulation to save the sportfish from extinction off the East Coast.