What do these two seemingly unrelated groups have in common? Very fortunately and personally for me, they represent a group of 162 people that I had the privilege of helping to create business and career plans with for 2 ½ years from April 2011 –August 2013. For many reasons, this was such a great experience for me. Most importantly, I met some of the nicest, hardest working people anyone could ever hope to meet in their whole lifetime. How many jobs/projects in Maine are so closely tied to the very fabric of our state? Lucky me.
Not Too Many Surprises – a few Nuances
- This somewhat surprised me – many of these lobstermen started lobstering before they were ten! This had to do with getting licenses for the older generations.
- 99% of the lobstermen have no intention of ever doing anything else.
- All the blueberry farmers but one had inherited their farms. None of them were making a living from their farms. It was supplemental income.
- The lobster industry is broken. However, it is not likely to change much.
- Blueberries are harvested for about 3 weeks in August. At the time of the harvest the farmers don’t know how much they will get paid for their crop – that usually happens closer to the November timeframe. For some they don’t know and don’t get paid until January. At least the lobstermen know how little they are making as it is happening. They can choose not to fish.
- Some in the lobster industry are economically stuck. However just about all of them wouldn’t have it any other way. Most are driven to go out as much as they do by how they feel ‘inside’ their gut once they leave the dock. The old man on the sea is alive and well in lobster land.
- Of the 162 people I worked with – 18 were blueberry farmers. 144 lobstermen. Only 2 women owned their own boat so that they could technically be called lobsterwomen. A number of younger women were sternmen. My youngest client was 15 – the oldest 84.
Background Information abut the TAA program
Back in 2010, these two groups qualified under a USDA program called The Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA) to receive training and financial assistance. This stimulus-sponsored program was designed to help agriculture and fisheries producers who at that time had experienced revenue decreases, and negative impacts from foreign imports and/or regulatory related issues.
In 2010, applications to the TAA program were made on behalf of about 200 low bush blueberry farmers in Maine and 6-8000 lobstermen in ME, NH, MA, RI and CT. Shrimp farmers in the Southern states as well as catfish and asparagus farmers also qualified.