A Navy master chief who has spent nearly 30 years of his life defending his country wants to return to lobstering when he retires from the military early next year.
Maine law won’t allow it.
Unless the next year brings changes in the law, James Kalloch of Winter Harbor and any others in his predicament are sunk.
“As I get closer to retirement, I wonder what I want to be when I grow up,” Kalloch said, since his longtime plan has been altered by legislative changes that squeezed him out of the lobster industry.
Before Kalloch joined the military, he had been lobstering from a young age. He had maintained a license up until 1995 when he was shipped to an overseas assignment and inadvertently let his license lapse.
While Kalloch was serving overseas, the Maine Legislature made changes in lobster fishing rules, which now require him to apprentice for two years and then wait until there is an opening in the zone in which he wants to fish.
There have been a couple of proposals to change the rules to help military veterans, but those bills died. Sen. Christine Savage, R-Union, and Rep. Deborah McNeil, R-Rockland, said they are willing to try again.
“I’m very sympathetic with him,” McNeil said recently.
Savage said she also remains sympathetic and willing to help Kalloch.
In April 2000, Kalloch was instrumental in getting the law changed, but not to his liking. The result was a measure that permits some people with fewer than six years in the military to renew their previously held lobster licenses without having to complete an apprenticeship program. The Legislature decided that anyone with more than six years of military service had chosen that for a career rather than lobstering.
This year, Kalloch pushed again for change with the help of McNeil, but the effort did not garner enough support, she said.
“I’m going to put in a bill again,” McNeil said last week, adding hopefully that in January 2003 the new Legislature would support it. “It’s going to have to be carefully crafted,” she said. “I think he deserves a chance at doing it.”
While many understand the need for tight regulations on lobster fishing licenses, a few people with extensive military backgrounds argue that they gave up many rights so all Americans could have liberties.
The new law for military service requires that a person have held a lobster license and actually fished during the year before military enlistment, have served less than six years and was honorably discharged, said Lisa Cote, state Department of Marine Resources licensing eligibility specialist.
Since January 2000, Cote has only had a few requests from military people wanting to renew licenses, she said. One man could not document that he had fished previously and two other men had more than six years of service, she said.
Kalloch pointed to some of the privileges extended by other states to military veterans and retirees, such as educational benefits, job preference, hunting licenses, income tax breaks, and he wonders why his military service does not allow him to return to the work he did before his enlistment.
McNeil says she understands perfectly Kalloch’s dilemma.
The Department of Marine Resources “has struggled with people like him,” she said. “I think he has a valid point.”
But “it is difficult to make allowances for some and not for others,” McNeil said.
The military mandates that Kalloch retire at 30 years of service even though he will be just 51 years old. His plan had been to move back to the midcoast, where he owns a few properties, and lobster for a living. Now, he needs to find a second career.
To date, Kalloch has not found any other service men or women in the same boat he is in, so he feels that a change in the law would not flood the fishing waters with too many lobstermen.
“Very few people are crazy enough at 51 to want to go out fishing” for a living, he said.
The zone that Kalloch would live and fish in, which roughly spans Belfast to Pemaquid Point, is currently closed to new fishermen. Two people must leave the zone before one person is allowed into it, he said.
“Part of this means they [legislators] have to give me my license and allow me to re-enter the zone where I live,” Kalloch said. “If not, I’m no further ahead than I was before.”