Saturday, October 25, 2008
Support My Local Bug Picker
The Maine lobster fishery needs your help. I know that might come as a shock to those of you out there who think of lobstermen* as some sort of mythical ocean-going frontiersman, a breed that exists out of time and out of the soft embrace of the 21st century, but lobstermen aren't damp Paul Bunyans. Like anyone in any industry they are regular folks whose personalities run the gamut from dickheads to decent (believe me, I have hung out with a few of both and all others in between at bars and parties over the years). At the end of the day lobstermen are as vunerable to supply and demand as anyone else and right now they are hurting.
Of course lobstering is not a subsistence existence (or at least it hadn't been since the advent of canned seafood: maybe it will be again soon) and lobster is just one of many candidates for the protein on your plate. You have a choice, and I hope that once in a while (and right now) you'll choose lobster.
Why? Well for one thing, lobster is wild-caught, unlike that insipid blob of chicken or that flabby yet artificially lean beef that greets you in the supermarket case. Unlike farmed salmon, lobstering hasn't brought all the fecal joy of intensive hog farming to the open ocean. And unlike just about any other fish species you care to mention, the Maine lobster fishery is sustainable, as our bug pickers figured out long ago that without a host of conservation measures they would be as SOL as their cod fishing cousins once they overfished the resource. There's no corporate ownership of fleets of boats, no money flowing out of the community or even the country to some distant headquarters, and no injecting of water, or stablilizers, or forced feeding, or overcrowding, or labor abuses......
Lobstermen do more than responsibly manage a sustainable fishery with a delicious and healthy product. They also collectively support a range of businesses and industries on shore that enable life in this chilly little afterthought of a state to vaguely resemble that enjoyed in the rest of the United States. Everyone from trap makers and sternmen to bankers and barbers have a stake in the survival of the lobster fishery.
And what's most annoying is that the current crisis in the industry is not the fault of the lobstermen. Between their conservation measures and closed entry to the fishery, between their closely guarded individual licensing requirements (meaning no corporate sea rapists or mad bonus driven fishing) and the support of local financial institutions, the lobstermen have tried to hedge against swings in the market. They were just about making it this year despite huge increases in the price of fuel and a federal requirement to change all of their gear in order to use more whale friendly line. It was going to be a hard year, but they could weather it. Then the panic in the markets began.
Its sort of a butterfly effect: the decline in sales of the 20% of the catch sold live was pretty predictable as the hedge fund folks ate out less but sudden inability to move the 80% of the catch that went to processors (mostly in Canada) was a real sucker punch.
"Illiquid lobster": apparently the freezers and cannery stock rooms are full. And with much of the credit and financing formerly enjoyed by the Canadian plants having been supplied by the now infamous Icelandic banking sector, processors are telling lobstermen to tie up their boats and seek alternative employment. If this freeze lasts, villages and towns up and down the coast of Maine could shrivel up and die.
This being Maine however, many people are rallying around. If you are lucky enough to live here, you will probably have noticed the local businesses promoting lobsters, the restaurants offering specials, and the lobstermen themselves organizing to sell directly to their neighbors ($3.50 a pound two blocks away: guess what we are having for dinner tonight?).
Those of you who live "away" might want to think about snapping up some lobsters too. There are all sorts of special deals available. Check out the The Maine Lobster Promotion Council or look online for a shipper (they'll fly the suckers right out of the airport down the road, and you'll have them ready to cook in mere hours). You don't have to do anything (we call that the George W. Bush response to a national emergency), but how often do you get the chance to help out your neighbor and eat lobster in the bargain?
(*A gender neutral term: ask any female lobsterman. You tell them apart by their V notch).