The Lobster Gangs of Maine


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Learning From Maine's Lobster Wars - The Atlantic

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Handling time. Prior to the twentieth century, lobstering was conducted from small, unpowered boats, making the range of each fisherman small. Most lobster fishing was done in the summer months when lobsters congregate near shore. These small near-shore areas were exploited by individuals or small groups of kin or neighbors; the areas were generally adjacent to property owned by the fishermen or their families.

As lobstering became more widespread, fishermen came to benefit from protecting the water they fished, and small harbor group territories arose that were easy to guard and close to home. Although very little information exists on how the territorial system was first formed, it was commonly believed that ownership of land gave the landowner right to fish in adjacent waters. As lobstering became more common, the territorial competition between lobstermen in densely settled harbors grew increasingly fierce.

Eventually, individual territories became unworkable, and fishermen started to cooperate to defend their territories from others. In the s, engines allowed fishermen to range over more water, which allowed territorial growth and spurred conflict between neighboring harbor gangs. Conflicts close to harbors were fought bitterly and resolved with reinforced territorial boundaries. A pattern of harbor gangs protecting exclusive territories appears to have spread along the Maine coast and may share a common cultural lineage with a similar system found in nearby Nova Scotia Wagner and Davis Some harbor gangs adopted perimeter defense, voluntary trap limits, and other practices that strengthened group structure.

Evidence of cultural group selection in territorial lobstering in Maine

Island communities were often first to implement stronger conservation and territorial measures. These largely informal institutions heavily influenced how lobsters were managed in the twentieth century. From the s, most harbor gangs suffered from internal competition in the form of trap escalation. One solution to the problem was a limit on the number lobster traps a fisherman could set. Efforts to get the legislature to enact a trap limit law failed repeatedly due to disagreements on what the trap limit should be.

In frustration, four islands established effective trap limits within their informal territories in the s. Fishermen in different coastal regions preferred different trap limits because they faced different ecological e. Thus, state-wide trap limit proposals failed for decades. In , the Maine Lobster Zone Management Law created a legal territorial system for seven coastal regions, enforced by a professional warden force.

Lobstering History

The law resolved the 2-decade conflict over trap limits, and established Zone Councils with democratic structure and limited autonomy. Zone councils adopted policies including zone-specific trap limits and limited entry rules which have spread among most zones. The proposal that changes in lobster fishing practice and policy constitute a process of cultural group selection leads to many questions that we cannot address here.

However, the multilevel framework of Waring et al. Has the dominant level of selection changed over time? Cultural group selection is a common and intuitive process, but collecting evidence of it requires careful accounting. Cultural group selection requires only two necessary factors : various a group cultural states which b spread between groups differentially. First, a group cultural state might be either an institution or a group-level aspect of individual behavior. Institutions, such as the presence of a voting rule, are often readily observable.

The Lobster Gangs of Maine
The Lobster Gangs of Maine
The Lobster Gangs of Maine
The Lobster Gangs of Maine
The Lobster Gangs of Maine
The Lobster Gangs of Maine

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