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New England fishermen band together in new coalition

June 20, 2023




MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — The New England Fishermen Stewardship Association (NEFSA), a recently formed organization advocating for people who earn their livelihoods with traps, nets and trawls in New England waters, offers something that other advocacy groups do not, according to Executive Director Jerry Leeman, a Harpswell groundfisherman who fishes out of New Bedford, Mass.

Leeman said the problem with most fishing organizations is that each focuses on a specific fishery, like lobster, or doesn’t cross state lines.

“At the end of the day, the broad spectrum is that a lot of us share the same waters,” Leeman said. “It’s strength in numbers. It’s unifying Maine lobstermen and Massachusetts lobstermen. I think this is a way of getting everybody on board for the preservation of our livelihoods and heritage.”

Leeman represents fishermen on the “trawl gear end,” he said. Dustin Delano, a lobster and menhaden fisherman out of Friendship, and former vice president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, is chief operating officer and represents the fixed gear sector. The treasurer is Northeast Harbor lobsterman Ronnie Musetti, and board members include Swan’s Island lobsterman Jason Joyce.

“NEFSA was formed to be a voice for all of New England’s responsibly managed fisheries on pressing issues that unite fishermen,” Joyce said. “NEFSA’s voice does not seek to compete with other industry associations but rather to work with them on common goals, fulfilling the necessary lobbying and educational resources that have been largely unavailable [to] lawmakers and the American public.”

Leeman and Delano both have “stepped away” from fishing for a year to focus on NEFSA, which Leeman said is funded through donations from fishermen, private boat owners and sponsorships. So now, instead of pulling fishing lines, Leeman and Delano are pulling out statistics and data in Washington, D.C., and for the national media.

“It’s a now-or-never scenario coming down the pipeline,” Leeman said.

And NEFSA’s voice is being heard. When news broke June 17 that the U.S. Court of Appeals sided with plaintiff Maine Lobstermen’s Association over the National Fisheries Marine Service on the biological opinion for endangered North Atlantic right whales, Fox News, for example, turned to NEFSA and Delano for comment.

“We were just down in D.C. talking with some of the legislators down that way, and the fish reps,” Leeman noted. “We’ve been well received everywhere we go.”

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