Zac McDorrEarly explorers in Maine were blown away by the massive abundance of fish and other marine resources. Unfortunately, hundreds of years of overfishing and mismanagement have created a crisis in fish stocks.

In 1992, for instance, the cod fish haul dropped to 1 percent of earlier levels. The Canadian government was forced to place a moratorium on cod fishing, ending a 500-year-old way of life for Canada’s fishermen.

Thankfully, the story with lobsters is different. Gone are the days when the shore was littered with lobsters at low tide, but the annual catch has been over 100 million pounds a year for some time. Last year was a bad year, but the lobster harvest is great compared to other fisheries. For this, you can probably thank Horatio Crie.

Crie led the Sea and Shore Fisheries Commission from 1918 to 1935. During that time the lobster industry was in a crisis. The annual harvest was averaging 5 to 7 million pounds a year, and many lobstermen were forced to find another line of work.

Crie decided to fight for the double-gauge law, which had first been proposed in the 1890s. The double-gauge law said that any lobster under a certain size or over a certain size had to be thrown back. This protected the juvenile lobster population and left the large hardy lobsters to breed.

The law would reduce the minimum size of a lobster from 10.5 inches to 9 inches. This would allow lobstermen to catch smaller lobsters, which could more easily compete with lobsters from Canada and Massachusetts. At the time, smaller Canadian lobsters made up 40 percent of the U.S. market.

Crie found both support and resistance to his ideas. Lobster dealers wanted smaller lobsters, so they were in favor. Most of the lobstermen in the western counties were also in favor, but the Downeast lobstermen wanted to stick with the 10.5 inch minimum.

The lobster crisis was deepening the economic woes of Maine during the Great Depression, so the state legislature held a special session in 1933 to debate the double-gauge law.

Crie spoke to the legislature, saying, “If a double-gauge measure is passed … you will see the lobsters continue to increase from year to year and no one will ever have to feel disturbed about the depletion of lobsters on the Maine coast, so long as a double-gauge measure is enforced.”

While the minimum and maximum lobster size has changed over the years, the double-gauge law is still in effect. The twenty-fold increase in Maine’s lobster harvest has certainly proven its effectiveness.

Source: Island Journal, 1997