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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hello, my name is Dave Boegel.I have been a lobsterman on Monhegan island for the last 28 years (24 on my own).I have been quiet and stayed in the background  for the most part, but now I feel a need to vent so here goes.
I started fooling around with traps in 1973 when we bought kits of bottoms , bows and oak lathes. the ballast was poured cement .The traps still needed more weight to sink them initially .That required rocks. We put the rocks in the truck, then the boat and set them in the traps. after the traps soaked enough to stay down on their own we reversed the process.
Well that business turned out to be so much work I decided to do what I always wanted to do since high school. In 1975 I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps .I endured basic training at the San Diego Recruit Depot graduating meritorious private first class .Infantry training school at Camp Pendelton and Twenty -Nine Palms California ,then two years in Hawaii (didn’t I love that).followed by a return to Camp Legeune and my military occupational specialty which was a forward observer for 81mm mortars. A brief history of accomplishments :qualified expert with the m-14 rifle; ninth award expert with the m-16;expert with the 45 caliber pistol. I also familiarization fired every weapon indigenous to the u.s.m.c. circa 1980.  The u.s.m.c. requires the marine qualify with the rifle once a year. I had 9 awards in 4 years because  I went to the rifle range whenever there was an opening. I was there so often they made me a range coach. That was my favorite job . Then in 1980 I received my honorable discharge with medal of good conduct. So with my small savings from my 6 years of service I returned to my home, Monhegan. In 1984 katy and I married and settled into our first house. I bought some traps from different lobstermen on island ,and some new. I had a mix of wood and wire for several years.
When the first wire traps came along we were skeptical. we all know how that turned out. I would estimate the wire trap is as important a development to the efficiency of lobstering as the motor and hydraulic hauler. when I started the minimum size was 3 3/16 inches. We measured a little differently than today .In those days if the measure went from parallel measured up to the center line on the carapace the lobster was good. Now the measure is held parallel to the center line .I had a warden argue that one with me. He kept swinging the measure down while saying parallel. Finally I had to ask him if he knew what parallel meant. I gave up on that one. We knew that at 3 3/16 inches we were catching the majority of females before breeding maturity. that’s why we started v-notching. The v-notch definition was clear. A clean cut with no setal hairs coming to a point at least 1/8 of an inch long, or any mutilation that could obliterate a notch. Then someone had the idea to raise the measure (although the stock was fine) allowing more females time to reach breeding maturity. The theory being more breeders equals more lobsters. Then the state decides to change the v-notch definition. Today’s definition ,as far as I know, is any mutilation. I think that is to broad and open to interpretation. Although once the lobsters leave my boat there is no question. The first ten years I went lobstering  the only warden I saw was the one that came to verify my existence for my first license in 1980. The license was for a sternman as then if you worked on a lobster boat you needed a license. We were sticklers on the regulations. We had the first trap limits. They were self imposed ,agreed upon and adhered to, by all the lobstermen on Monhegan. We fished from January 1st to June 25th  .
 Now we have a trap tag system that is cumbersome and serves as another regulatory tripwire that can result in disproportionate penaltys for a simple rule violation. One day in January I was hauling 10 fathom warps backside of manana when I was boarded by a marine patrol officer who proceeded to break a lobsters back  with his measure while declaring I “couldn’t keep that for $6.00 a pound”. Then  he wrote me a warning for not permanently marking  my 3x5inch bouy. I had written my license number in marker but this was not sufficient. Upon leaving he said (not knowing me at all) how I should be afraid of wardens or something like that. Most boardings, as they became more numerous , went without incident. Then one saturday in early june in the mid 1990’s I was just setting back my last pair of traps on gull rock shoal when a marine patrol hauled up alongside me and smilingly asked me if it wasn’t late. I responded, after looking at my clock , that it was just approaching Miller time. I found out that I had either missed the memo or forgotten  the Sunday closure starts at 16:30 hours on Saturday.  The wardens (who shall remain nameless) followed me to the harbor and rafted up with me at my lobster car. They proceeded to overhaul my catch and write me a summons for hauling in a closed area. That area being state waters. For hauling my own traps I was fined $160.00 and branded a class D criminal. This was more than ten years ago. Today we see much has changed. Management zones and zone councils who believe they are making policy but only make recommendations to the one entity who can make rules, the Commissioner of the Department Marine Resources. Lobster dealers having to keep catch records on all their fisherman. These things used to be confidential but I don’t think so anymore. Now I have a logbook and need to file detailed  monthly reports by the first week of the next month. If you don’t, or are late, it’s a regulatory violation to be followed by fines or even license revocation. I have to tell you I was not a good student in school and had many tardy homework assignments. I would guess this is a pilot program in preparation for the requirement of all lobstermen to keep logs. The one I have now seems to have little information of scientific value. However it does record pounds caught and where and when I sold the catch. All of which is also reported by the lobster dealer. I remember the term ‘independent  fisherman’ and used to think I was one. I’m not sure that term is relevant. I’m self -employed and pay the taxes to prove it. Why is it that I feel that I’m working for the state without pay or benefit?
    The situation today is dire for the Monhegan lobster fishery. When the state made the zones initially we were one. Then somehow we became zone D (although by name only because the line between Monhegan and zone D cannot be crossed by us). Along with the zones came the trap limit. A survey found the average number of traps in the midcoast area was estimated at 475 traps. The state then made that limit officially 800 traps. That led to an explosion of trap numbers and everyone (except Monhegan, with our 600 trap limit)built up to that number.This is when things started going downhill for us.Due to fishing pressure around us all year long we asked for and received an extension of our season to include December. With the extension we had several productive years. The state then decided to keep the market price flat to eliminate the price fluctuations that winter fishermen depended on. The result of this was another extension of our season to include October and December as to catch the fall run of lobsters. When we did this we (once again) gave up traps to a 475 trap limit. However included in the law was the commissioner of  the D.M.R.would set the limit. This issue would be open to discussion and could be adjusted as needed seasonally. I said in a meeting of the Monhegan registrants that this seemed reasonable and we shouldn’t anticipate being in an adversarial relationship with the D.M.R. We were cautiously optimistic that our request for 400 traps would be accepted by Mr. LaPointe. Mr. LaPointe stated that he had to confer with the zone D council and he would get back to us. The counsel told the commissioner that we couldn’t make it without at least 400 traps. The commissioner then set our trap limit at 300. That was 3 years ago. At our last meeting in august of ‘09 we again requested 400 traps and were denied. I told Mr. LaPointe that I didn’t make sufficient income to properly maintain my boat. Others also expressed their financial concerns.This provoked an angry response from the commissioner that we had entered into this agreement together,and we should be satisfied. Lately we received a letter from the commissioner that basically said we had failed and to fix it the area would be opened up to the rest of zone D.
    So the end result is a 100 year old fishery is close to going the way of all things. I personally am finding it impossible to sustain myself and my family with a business that used to make me a good living 6 months of the year. If it weren’t for our summer business we would have been forced to sell our home ,that is so much more than just a house and property, already. That reality is not far away. I am looking for some way to improve my income from other sources as are all fishermen.
    I wish “good luck, and god speed” to all in the same predicament as I realise this situation is not unique. Government regulation is not bad, but over-regulation is the killer of enterprises across the board.
    The peoples voice is heard from the ballot box and I urge everyone to vote. Perhaps we can effect real change in a positive direction for business. Without business there are no jobs and everything follows in decline.
    I hope this letter is read by everyone.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      

1 comment:

  1. That is truly heartbreaking and maddening...I wish that somehow public awareness could be increased. I just visited Monhegan for the first time and fell in love with everything about the island that you call home. Perhaps together with the artists, Inns and the lobster men, you could organize an art auction/dinner/public awareness/fundraiser event...I'm sure I am too naive to offer much more than painful and useless sympathy.

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