An open letter to seafood lovers, those who haven't tried seafood before, and those who are unsure of what kind of seafood to buy, from a fisherman's wife:
To whom it may concern: (Too formal.)
Hello world, (Too dramatic.)
Hey there! (Just right.)
It's 2014 and information is more readily available than it ever has been before. If you can't remember the name of an actor who was in a movie twenty-years ago, there's an app to help you figure it out. No reason to even search in Google. A plethora of information is available, at your fingertips, in an instant. And yet, when it comes to fish, fishing, and seafood, for some reason, a lot of people are still so confused. It's easy for us as a fishing family. When people ask me where I get my fish the answer is simple: the ocean; friends; we catch it ourselves. Perhaps even for Mainers the answer is easier than in many others parts of the country: We get our fish from the coast. Our coasts are lined with lobster shacks, cute restaurants, and seafood markets, making it easier to source fish from close to home.
My husband and I often pick up the papers or magazines from other parts of the United States, or scroll through our Facebook feeds, and are often disheartened by some of the headlines that stretch across the pages. Things like traceability and sustainability of seafood are constantly in question; fish fraud; mercury content; and depleting resources greatly outweigh any of the positive efforts that fishermen like my husband undergo, and proactively enact, in order to protect not only their livelihood, but the ocean, its inhabitants, and the ecosystem. Without sounding childish, some of the accusations of fisheries, the demands being made by those outside of the fishing industry, and the fear-generating stories in the media can be downright hurtful and dispiriting to a hardworking fishing family.
Let's use Maine lobster as an example! That's what you came to this portion of the Visit Maine site to read about, is it not?! Maine lobster is one of the most well-regulated, sustainable fisheries in the world. In the world! The fishery is under constant scrutiny and undergoing changes all of the time in order to protect the resource. From the type of bait used, to the whale toggles and escape vents for smaller lobsters, to the sink rope, v-notches, and amount of traps fished-when and where, to the size of lobsters that are able to be kept, this fishery is managed. Let me clear that up in a really simple statement: Everything from how the lobsters are caught, to which lobsters can be kept and sold, and even how they are treated after they leave the boat, is managed under specific rules.
Herman gets up at 3:30 in the morning, grabs some coffee, and leaves to go fishing; all before most of us are even thinking about waking up. He and his sternman will take care of a few things and then head out; in the winter they go much further out, and in the summer they get to stay a little closer to home to go fishing. They haul traps, usually about 400 a day, out of Herman's 800, and are home around dinner — sometimes later, sometimes sooner. On days they don't go fishing they are usually working on the boat, or fixing up traps. In the winter they both plow driveways. When Herman gets home from fishing we make dinner together and sit at the dining room table. Our two kids have to tell us about their days and Herman and I usually share parts of our days as well.
I know when I read an article about seafood fraud that it is not about Herman, or Maine lobster, or Maine seafood. I know when I read about various over-fishing practices that are occurring in other parts of the world that it is not about Maine fisheries. There's something that strikes at my heart when I read it, though. I'm part of a fishing family, and my family is part of a larger fishing community. Not just the Harpswell fishing community, but the American fishing industry. I can't imagine what it's like as a consumer to really try and understand what's going on in fisheries and seafood, and to understand where people like myself are coming from. Where's the app for that?
I implore you dear reader, to come to Maine, and experience our fisheries, taste our seafood, and see our lovely coastline! It's more than just delicious lobster rolls and outstanding chowders. Behind those lobsters and clams and crabs and fish are hard-working families, some history, and a whole lot of pride.