President of Maine’s oldest fishermen’s organization to step down in March

Posted:  Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 9:30am

After 27 years as president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), the state’s oldest fishermen’s organization, lobsterman David Cousens of South Thomaston will step down at the MLA’s annual meeting on March 2 at the Samoset Resort in Rockport. He is just the fourth person to head the MLA since it was founded in 1954.

Since Cousens began his tenure in 1991, the Maine lobster fishery has experienced dramatic changes. At the beginning of the 1990s, annual lobster landings in Maine were slightly more than 30 million pounds, lobstermen could fish an unlimited number of traps, and the fishery was controlled by the New England Fishery Management Council.

Cousens worked tirelessly over the years to apply Maine’s core conservation measures -- V-notching, protecting oversized lobsters and preventing lobsters caught in dragger nets from being landed in Maine -- throughout the New England lobster fishery. A “V” notched in the tail of an egg-bearing lobster tells lobstermen in the future to toss that female back, thus allowing it to produce more eggs and young lobsters. Maine lobstermen had adhered to this practice for years, but not lobstermen in other states.

One of Cousens’ first major battles was to promote the transfer of authority over the lobster fishery from the Council, which manages commercial fisheries in federal waters, to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which oversees interstate fisheries that predominately occur in state waters. Cousens and former MLA executive director Pat White of York argued that since 80% of the lobster harvested in the country came from state waters, it made sense to have the Commission, not the Council, hold the regulatory power. This successful move made Maine’s conservation measures the standard, rather than the exception, for lobster conservation in the Gulf of Maine out to 40 miles from shore.

During his 27 years, Cousens beat a steady path to Augusta and Washington, D.C., making sure that the perspective of all Maine lobstermen, not just MLA members, was recognized and respected. He developed strong relationships with Maine’s Congressional delegation, working with Senators Cohen, Mitchell, Snowe, Collins and King. He had the ability to speak plainly to those in power as well as to his fellow lobstermen. Yet no matter who he met with, he always endeavored to speak the truth.  “He’s a good people person and he’s not afraid to talk. He has the ability to get a read on people. He could tell if someone, a politician, was being truthful or not. If someone was talking nonsense, he’d point his finger at him and tell him so,” said South Bristol lobsterman Arnie Gamage. “David’s commitment is unbelievable. I don’t think anyone realizes the number of hours and the phone calls he’s put in. And he’s done it for the good of the industry.”