ROCKPORT — After 27 years at the helm of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, South Thomaston lobsterman David Cousens stepped down as president at the organization’s annual meeting at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum earlier this month in Rockport.
He was 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 a number of significant changes, including a nearly exponential growth in landings.
In the early 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.
Last year, according to figures announced by the Department of Marine Resources Friday morning, Maine lobster landings were some 110,819,760 pounds, the sixth highest total on record, with a value of nearly $451 million to the harvesters. Those staggering numbers were realized despite, or perhaps as a result of, many conservation measures implemented in the fishery, including an 800-trap limit.
During his term, Cousens worked continuously to convince fisheries regulators to apply Maine’s lobster conservation measures — V-notching female lobsters, protecting oversized lobsters and prohibiting landing lobsters caught by draggers — throughout the New England lobster fishery.
Cousens also was a key figure in the fight to transfer authority over the lobster fishery from the New England Fishery Management Council, which manages fisheries in federal waters, to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which oversees interstate fisheries that predominately occur in state waters. About 80 percent of the lobster harvested in the country came from state waters.
He also played a major role in the effort to reduce the impact of whale protection rules on Maine lobster fishermen.
Cousens was a strong voice for the interests of Maine lobstermen both in Augusta and Washington, D.C., and developed strong relationships with Maine’s congressional delegation, working with U.S. senators as diverse as William Cohen, George Mitchell, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Angus King.
“He’s a good people person, and he’s not afraid to talk,” longtime MLA board member and South Bristol lobsterman Arnie Gamage said recently. “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.”