I was alarmed when I saw this story on AP yesterday, about angry lobster fishermen setting up rogue retail outlets on the back of trucks, in parking lots, and the like, underselling the retailers who have themselves been forced to drop the price to 20-year lows. Good for summer feeds. Bad for fishermen and the part of Maine I've visited every summer--Spruce Head, near Rockland, which may have a nice summer population now but when we started visiting family friends there, in the 1960s, lived on lobster and still tries to now.
Stores of lobster populations and lobster prices are New England staples, and ones that always confuse me as closely as I try to follow them. Don't sudden excess and plunging prices presage environmental and economic disaster, like the story of salmon in the Maine of 100 years ago and cod in the Georges Bank of just a few decades ago? Is this another sign of global warming and the end of nature? Will this be the last July when visitors who accompany my family for our annual Spruce Head trip come back with a year's worth of stories about the civilized-seeming people who turn into cavemen when presented with a platter of steamed shedders?
I asked Trevor Corson, longtime adjunct member of the Atlantic family and author of the lively and deeply researched Secret Lives of Lobsters, if this was indeed reason for alarm. His lightning-quick and lucid reply surprised--and relieved--me.
The problem isn't the fishery, he said--that's in good shape. Really good shape. Whew! It's the economy--and, I guess not so incredibly, Iceland and its own economic crash. The very independence and stubbornness that have made "Mainiacs" New England legends is right now working against them. The story he lays out is classic New England--but the New England of flinty, independent survival rather than shortsighted exploitation of nature, which plays just as large a role in its history.
Corson says that it doesn't look like Maine lobster will go the way of Maine wild salmon or Cape Cod cod--but, if they don't change their fishing and marketing strategies in ways he describes, they could go the way of the textile mill workers who have left such lovely, sad relics in the Connecticut of my childhood and the Massachusetts I live in now.
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