The largest commercial fishing industry group on the East Coast will elect a new leader this Friday for the first time in 27 years.
Kristan Porter, a Cutler fisherman, is expected to take the reins of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association at the end of its annual meeting in Rockport. Porter, however, said it is “not a done deal” that he’ll become the group’s next president.
Porter, 47, would take over for South Thomaston lobsterman David Cousens, who is stepping down as MLA president after having held the post since 1991. Porter said he knows of no other board member who has expressed interest in the job but that other names might be submitted for nomination at the meeting.
“I don’t know if it’s set in stone,” Porter said Monday.
The MLA was founded in 1954 and, with 1,200 members, bills itself as “the oldest and largest fishing industry association on the East Coast.” It holds its annual meeting each year at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, a three-day commercial fishing conference held every March at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.
If Porter is elected as MLA president, he said, “I’m not going to be on the 27-year plan like Dave was.”
Porter, who currently holds the post of first vice president, said he expects he would serve as president for only a few years and then step aside so a younger fisherman could take on the leadership role.
“I stay pretty busy,” Porter said, adding that he also serves on the forum’s board of directors and on the scallop advisory panel of the New England Fishery Management Council.
As Cousens also has said, Porter said the biggest challenge facing Maine’s $533 million lobster fishery will be finding a way for the industry to coexist with whales. Entanglements with fishing gear and ship strikes are the two main threats to whales, which are protected under federal law.
He said two lawsuits have been filed recently against the federal government by whale conservation groups who say not enough is being done to prevent lobster fishing gear from entangling whales — especially critically endangered north Atlantic right whales, 17 of which were found dead last year. The species’ estimated population is fewer than 450 individual animals.
Boosting demand for lobster and making sure adequate conservation measures are in place in the Gulf of Maine also are important issues facing the industry, but the whale issue outweighs all others, Porter said.
“None of it means anything if we’re not fishing” because regulators take action to limit the fishery’s impact on whales, he said.
In addition to the MLA meeting, more than 30 other seminars or fishing group meetings are planned for this year’s forum, which runs from Thursday morning through Saturday. Some of the other topics featured at the conference include:
— The economic impact of lobster processors and distributors on the state economy.
— The impact lobster fishing has on right whales
— Expected regulatory changes in the Northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishery.
— The effects of climate change on fishing in the gulf.
— An annual report from the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative.
— Efforts to develop a viable green crab fishery to control the invasive species’ population.
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