PORTLAND — A union representing thousands of Maine's shipbuilding and paper mill workers now has its sights set on lobstermen.
With promises to fight bad legislation and negotiate prices for their catch, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has been recruiting fishermen in some of Maine's most lobster-reliant communities, including Vinalhaven, Stonington and Jonesport. So far, more than 250 fishermen have signed up for what will be called the IAM Maine Lobstering Union.
The idea of lobstermen joining a labor union may be at odds with the traditional image of the self-reliant, independent lobsterman, said Riley Poole, who has joined the union. But with fishermen getting rock-bottom prices for their catch and expenses continuing to rise, lobstermen have to do something to preserve their way of life and Maine's traditional fishing communities, he said.
"I'm looking toward the future and if other people don't, they won't be able to continue being independent," said Poole, 29, a fourth-generation fisherman. "They'll have to get a job somewhere else or work on a corporate boat."
Others aren't so sure.
"I think commercial fishermen are fiercely independent, and to give up that independence to an organization without any experience in the industry would be a mistake," said Stonington lobsterman Genevieve Kurilec-McDonald.
Maine has more than 5,000 licensed lobstermen who account for about 85 percent of the U.S. harvest of North Atlantic lobsters, which are caught from roughly Maine to New Jersey.
With lobster prices on the decline in recent years, fishermen have struggled. Last year's prices — $2.69 a pound on average, the lowest price since 1994 — prompted Vinalhaven fisherman Magnus Lane to call up the machinists union in December in search of information.
Read the full story at the Portland Press Herald>>