When people in the rest of the country think of Maine, three things are likely to come immediately to mind: L.L. Bean, Stephen King, and lobsters. The first two are in fine shape, but Maine lobsters have a problem: Most of them go to Canada, where they are processed and shipped back to the United States as Canadian lobster meat.
A recent issue of Working Waterfront, the Island Institute's monthly free newspaper, has a good report on the situation and some thoughts on how to deal with it. The clichés about Maine lobsters have been around for decades — they're the product of the pristine waters off the rocky coast, harvested by sturdy, independent-minded lobstermen who brave the ocean's hazards. What may not be known by out-of-state buyers is that about seven of eight lobsters served in restaurants in the rest of the country as "Maine lobsters" are actually from Canada, which has an annual catch twice as big as Maine's.
But, as marketing studies by the Maine Lobster Promotion Council show, the greatest demand by far is for processed lobster meat, in which Canada far outproduces and outsells the Maine industry. Consumers increasingly prefer the convenience of buying lobster meat for seafood chowders and cocktails and for such dishes as lobster spaghetti or linguini.
For the present, about 70 percent of the lobsters harvested in Maine go to Canada. Bruce Fernald, an Islesford lobsterman, says if it weren't for the Canadian market he'd probably have to throw his catch back into the ocean.
A law that went into effect last April requires that lobsters and lobster meat be labeled as to country of origin. That means that buyers of live lobsters should know whether they were Maine or Canadian lobsters and take their choice. More important, the law means that lobster meat produced in Maine or Canada will be so labeled. The wave of the future thus seems to mean that Maine should increasingly process and sell its own lobster catch rather than letting Canada do that and get the credit and earnings.
One venture pointing toward a favorable future is a modern lobster-processing plant being built in a converted former shoe factory in Richmond. It will use water pressure to drive the meat out of the lobster shells to provide 2,000 pounds an hour of fresh raw lobster meat with a refrigerated shelf life of forty-five days.
With the few existing Maine processing plants and prospects like this new one, Maine's famous lobster brand could continue to shine.
—Bangor Daily News
Gay Rights — Finally
We could almost hear the collective groan around the state when opponents of the state's new anti-discrimination law, which was ratified by voters in early November, said they would continue their fight — with a changed focus on preventing the legalization of same-sex marriage. Anti-discrimination — commonly called gay rights in this context — has been an issue in the state for almost a decade. It has gone before voters three times. Twice it lost; on November 8, state voters decided that it is wrong to allow discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation.
But as much as proponents of the anti-discrimination law would like to say the issue is settled, it's time to move on, that's not really the case. In a democracy, issues are never really settled. The conversation — the debate — continues. Every election is an opportunity for one side or the other to make progress, to undo what has been done, to continue the struggle.
During the campaign last year to overturn the anti-discrimination law, which was wrongly characterized as a precursor to same-sex marriage, advocates for a yes vote often argued that the question had already been decided by voters. They said that the legislature and Governor John Baldacci were going against the will of the people by passing a law that had been rejected two times already.
The argument does not recognize the ever-changing nature of politics and policy, which are constantly evolving. Voters are not static. They change their minds.
There is no guarantee of progress in this country, only the promise of change. Be it abortion, civil rights, or economic policy, few issues are ever settled.
Otherwise, the country would find itself locked in the past, unable to right past wrongs, to adapt to new challenges, to grab new opportunities.
—Sun Journal, Lewiston
Dirty Deals, Dirty River
It's always refreshing when a state official owns up to a mistake. In the case of the Department of Environmental Protection's secretly negotiated agreements with a paper company, however, the admission follows a particularly unfortunate error.
DEP Commissioner Dawn Gallagher recently acknowledged that the decision by an agency bureau chief to let Rumford Paper Company keep all drafts of a side agreement to a pollution discharge permit was wrong. Gallagher said she fully expects state Attorney General Steven Rowe to determine that the DEP violated Maine's Freedom of Access Act. That's bad enough.
What's worse is that the decision to keep the drafts of the Rumford agreement from public view — and the resulting mea culpa — needlessly complicate an exceedingly contentious effort to clean up the Androscoggin River. Gallagher said the DEP will now repudiate side agreements to new discharge permits. Meanwhile she hopes to persuade the two companies to follow through with their intent — one directed by the legislature — to increase the amount of life-sustaining oxygen for fish and other critters in the hard-working Androscoggin.
It's hard to imagine, given these events, how the deal can be revived. For environmental groups who have long criticized the state for going easy on paper mills, the effect of the episode may be akin to whacking a nest of angry hornets with a stick.
They're not unhappy to see the side agreements go away. They say the compromise worked out in the legislature last summer to give International Paper and Rumford Paper ten years to come into compliance with standards other state mills are already meeting was illegal.
Instead, they're hoping that the state Board of Environmental Protection, the DEP's oversight board, will make the two companies play by the same rules as everyone else. Before that happens, the board has to sort through an unprecedented fourteen appeals to the discharge permits the DEP has proposed. Strangely — or not — the two companies for whom the DEP stuck out its neck are among those challenging the permits they negotiated.
One thing seems clear: The disputed side deals will now become fuel for the lawsuits that will follow the eventual issuance of a permit. It's also clear the DEP has left more of a mess than there was before.
The path to a cleaner Androscoggin may be cloudy. The process by which the DEP gets there shouldn't be.
—Portland Press Herald