Lobstering Shutdown Claws at Local Livelihood


Teddy Ragge

George Mason is a local Scituate lobsterman

Ethan Blanks and David Stanley

The fishing and lobstering industry has been intertwined with the history and culture of Scituate ever since the town was founded in 1636. For centuries, boats have set off from Scituate Harbor with fishermen looking to make a living off the treasures of the Atlantic ocean. Since this February, however, there have been no traps in the water around Scituate. This absence was caused by a lobstering shutdown spanning three months from February to April, which was mandated to avoid the fatal tangling of Northern Right Whales in lobster trap lines. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 85% of Northern Right Whales have been tangled or trapped by fishing lines. With approximately 365 of these whales left in existence, line tangling is one of the main reasons why they are oftentimes considered endangered.

For local lobstermen, the shutdown is a massive roadblock, preventing them from earning a living in their field. Currently, MA lobstermen are not receiving government funding for reparations for the time lost under the fishing ban, which is unlike farmers and other fishermen who are frequently reimbursed by the government for periods in which they are not allowed to work.

Many in the lobstering community are looking for legislative change to aid these lobstermen who have now been forced to make ends meet without a sizable portion of their expected income. Executive Director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, Beth Casoni, has asked the state legislature to implement a pandemic unemployment program for the closure, especially considering its expected lengthy presence. “We need to do something for our fishermen in Massachusetts to say thank you,” Casoni explained, “If it’s a pandemic unemployment program, that would be greatly received.” Though presented as a three-month closure, the lobstering shutdown could last longer. It is expected that one month must be factored in for both the beginning and end of the closure so lobstermen are able to retrieve and reset their gear, making the lobstering shutdown, in essence, a five-month period.

To make matters worse, the initial intention of the shutdown–protecting the Northern Right Whale population–has proved ineffective. The endangered whales have not demonstrated significant progressive growth, as their existence continues to be jeopardized by climate change and boat collisions. Additionally, the increase of seals in the area stemming from government protection has drawn a significant surge in a pursuing shark population, who also feast on Northern Right Whales. Airplane pilots attending a Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association meeting reported incidents in which young calves of the Northern Right Whale population were hunted and killed by sharks.

For the past 45 years, Scituate resident Tucker Patterson has been a lobsterman–starting when he was just twelve years old. “This is the first time in 39 years I haven’t had a pot in the water,” stated Patterson when asked about the restrictions. For Patterson, the shutdown has given him time to work on his traps and boat before the busy spring and summer months; however, he is still seeking support for local lobstermen: “Other countries have closures. Canada has a shutdown, so they subsidize the fishermen when they can’t fish,” responded Patterson when asked what he was looking for in terms of help for the lobstermen during these closure periods. When farmers can’t farm, the government pays them. Patterson and his fellow Massachusetts lobstermen argue the same should be done for their lobstering industry, as they play an important role in preserving the ocean habitat.

Though the thought of shutting down one of Massachusetts’ most famous and traditional industries with minimal government assistance is shocking, the situation is consistently flying under the radar, and the future of the Scituate lobstering industry may be at risk.

For more information regarding the closures and the ongoing work of Beth Casoni and the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association’s fight for lobstermen’s compensation visit https://lobstermen.com/.