June 05, 2020

Environmental extremism gaffs coastal fishermen

Where the makeshift boat landing sloped to the shore of the lake, Hank Lyons paused in the cab of his pickup and watched sheets of rain billowing in a cold southwest wind. “The bait dealers’ll be about as busy as the Maytag repairman today,” Hank thought as he studied the whitecapped, slate-gray water. “I have to admit, I probably could have found something better to do today,” he mumbled as he stepped out and pulled up the hood of his rain parka.

Is there anything more miserable than an aluminum boat beaded and wrinkled with cold rain? The damn things even smell cold. Although the landing was somewhat sheltered from the wind, there was enough chop to make a challenge of launching the boat alone. As usual, the top of an unfastened hip boot drooped just enough to dip into a wave as Hank slid the boat off the trailer. After parking the truck, he ran back to the beached boat, muscled the bow around into the wind, pumped the fuel tank’s primer bulb until he felt pressure, then, hooking one foot into the stern, pushed off with the other.

When the 10-horse outboard started on the second pull, Hank smiled saying, “God loves the Irish.” He throttled the motor back immediately, though, when the bow lifted on a whitecap and spanked down with a rattling jolt of rods, bait bucket, and tackle box. Squinting into the rain and bow spray, Hank thought, “Fisherman’s luck, a wet arse and a hungry gut.” And in the wake of those words, the plight of other Maine fishermen surfaced in his mind: lobstermen and women hauling against a tide of absurd regulations proposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding protection of right whales.

In the lee of an island, Hank idled the outboard and sewed on a smelt. Cursing the cold, the kinked leader, and his fumbling fingers, he thought of lobstermen working in weather as nasty and worse. “They earn their money all right,” Hank allowed. “But now people who may not know a pot hauler from a pot of beans are proposing regulations that’ll run the lobster industry aground for sure.”

“It’s worse than absurd, it’s unconscionable,” the veteran angler thought as he tossed the smelt overboard and began trolling. “A few right whales have been killed by ships, so they go after lobstermen. I can think of a lot of adjectives to describe that logic – and the word `stupid’ would be the kindest. Imagine, breakaway buoys. Cripes, a new moon tide and a good breeze would leave buoys strung all over the coast.

“But there’s more to this than agencies and bureaucrats,” Hank thought as the rain jelled into snow. “What we’re seeing is more environmental extremism aimed at eliminating everything that makes this state Maine, including its people.

“First it’s the Green Party hacking away at the wood products industry, then RESTORE’s plan to turn the state into a national park – which it already is – and now this guy Strahan trying to sink the fishing industry with this right whale nonsense. And where in hell is he anyway? He hasn’t surfaced since last year, when he threatened to put Maine fishermen out of business. Well, I know where he isn’t: He’s not tugging on the lines of the shipping industry, that’s for damn sure.”

It was a sharp, satisfying tug, however, that bowed Hank’s rod and buzzed the reel. Seconds later, a salmon leaped astern and arced silvery through the sift of fog-like snow. “Misery loves company, but since you kept me from being skunked I’ll give you a second chance,” Hank admonished the fish, a 17-incher, as he released it.

Letting the boat drift, he sewed on another smelt. “We’ll all end up skunked, though,” the thought nagged, “if we don’t put an anchor on these environmental extremists using the legal and regulatory process to gaff all our cultures and traditions and heritage. And the only way to do it is with a groundswell of public opposition at hearings, the way lobstermen are doing. Personally, I’d like to see all these `do gooders’ put off on a half-tide ledge. They’d have a real environmental experience when the tide began rising. And I’ll guarantee they wouldn’t want any breakaway rigging in the line that towed them ashore.”

When he started trolling, Hank mulled the question, “Why Maine?” asked often in the context of the right whale controversy. “Simple,” he thought. “Mention the word `lobster’ anywhere and the next word you hear mentioned is `Maine.’ But obviously it doesn’t make a bit of difference that a right whale has never gone belly-up in a Maine lobsterman’s gear.

“This scenario stinks as much as the garbage dumped by anti-hunting and animal-rights zealots. Let’s face it, coastal fishermen are the most knowledgeable and observant guardians of Maine’s marine ecosystems. Likewise, sportsmen are indispensable stewards of the inland ecosystems. But aside from that, the work ethic, individuality, and independence of Mainers – their lifestyle – is admired and envied by people everywhere. So what’s wrong with keeping it that way?”

“It beats the hell out of me,” Hank thought aloud. “But these save-us-from-ourselves fanatics keep thinking they’re going to replant the Garden of Eden by shutting everything down via the Endangered Species Act. This right whale business is another example of it.”

In the next tight-lipped, eye-squinted hour, the only tug Hank had was from a waterlogged stick. But his reel was still running as he headed for the landing: “If I were a lobsterman, I’d keep on fishing and let the agencies and bureaucrats blow their absurd and unconscionable proposals out their bilge pumps.”

No question, the word “stupid” would be a kind description. Tom Hennessey’s column can be accessed on the BDN internet page at: http://www.bangornews.com

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