Sunday, July 22, 2012

Drinking from the Full Half of the Half Full Glass

If I wasn't consciously choosing to drink from the full half of the half full glass, I'd be pretty well in despair. This month was the month I fondly and feverishly imagined I would do a lot of catching up on bills. This was the month that the pathetic catch of the early part of the season would give way to a stampeding bounty of lobsters and cheddar. Unfortunately, the stampede got out of hand. We are catching way too many shedders too fast. As a result, the price is flabbergastingly low. My flabber is so gasted that I may need surgical intervention.

Lobsters are selling for what they did in the early 1980's. That McMonkeyed up time machine is not functioning evenly, however. Bait, fuel and boat payments are very much in the current day economically.

Not only is the price shocking, dealers are instituting rolling blackouts- days they won't buy at all. Add a week off in July when the lobstermen to tried to take action to stabilize price, and voila - a screwed up month.

So the cheddar thing? Not happening.

This was the year I'd have my first full season aboard Close Enough. Timing is everything. Time to get the glass half full again. Tomorrow it will still be July. I will still have the privilege of working on the ocean. February is still a long way off.


Check out the Unstuck posting for this time around

Friday, July 13, 2012

Time for a Rematch

"Oh, what a good boy am I" I was thinking a week ago yesterday. Despite the economic hardships of the lobster season, I'd got into the habit of buying bait and fuel ahead. The fuel keeps fine, since it has been in a similar form for x many million years in the ground. Herring is another matter. Herring keeps well either alive in the ocean, or heavily salted and in massive refrigerators. In a black plastic tote in the stern of my vessel in July for a week and change? The runoff had turned to a greasy brown shellac on the deck, not unlike what you'd find renovating a diner when you pull out a sink or friolater that's not been brought up to health code in several decades.

It's only $120, but I think I need to pitch what was my paid-ahead bait overboard. Why? Because our fleet has not left the harbor since last Friday. The fishermen have engaged in a tie-up to allow an oversupply of lobsters to correct itself, the price to stabilize and to permit the all-powerful dealers and processors to pull their heads back out where  the sun does shine.

If my history is correct, the last time this was done was 1957. The tie-up triggered an unusually prompt response from the federal government who, rather than examining the real cause of market distortions, instead elected to indict fishermen for Sherman Act antitrust violations. This law, designed to deal with oil monopolies and other abuses of emperors, oligarchs and the ultrawealthy was now directed at independent guys in small boats, none of whom had anything remotely like market influence. Or even a fancy cigar and top hat.

It was a misuse of the law to intimidate fishermen out of participating in their own free market. It won't happen again.

The key legal question is: Is the tie-up natural or artificial? Is it the product of advocacy and solidarity and basic free market economics, or of conspiratorial agreement to manipulate supply and force a price?

It is one of the poorer kept secrets that dealers and processors communicate regarding price in order to manage their involvement in this market. Fishermen are entitled to do the same as long as there is no coercion or contract.

It is time to undo the 50 year old misrepresentation used to intimidate fishermen out of taking an active role in their own market. The Maine Department of Marine Resources issued a memo directed exclusively at fishermen, threatening "swift enforcement" and floating the idea of antitrust indictments.

I say bring it on. Fishermen have a right to take an active role in the market that their hard work and risk make possible.

Monday, July 9, 2012


No, lobstermen do not have to get in the boat if the price isn't reasonable. Lobstermen don't have to duct-tape their mouths shut about it either.

There is nothing illegal about a public call to tie up for the purpose of letting the temporary oversupply of lobsters correct itself, letting the processors catch up and allowing the price to come back into balance with the value of the product. This is actually an example of lobster harvesters being intelligent market players instead of passively waiting for things to get better.

There is no such thing as an illegal lobster "strike" because harvesters are not regulated as to their production schedule with the exception of the state law prohibiting harvests on Sundays between June 1 and August 31.

This is not price-fixing because there is no conspiratorial attempt to artificially set a price. It is simply an adjustment to the harvest for the purpose of allowing the market to correct itself.

Lobstermen are under no obligation to accept any particular price because they are participants in what is supposed to be a free market. Lobstermen also have a constitutional right to communicate about their concerns regarding market conditions.
 Now, let's eat. Eat local.