By Stewart Lamont
As one of more than 150 interested and engaged citizens to attend the Association for the Protection of the Eastern Shore’s community information meeting on July 23rd at the Tangier Fire Hall, I was encouraged that we on the Eastern Shore still turn out for important events and are passionate about our collective futures.
There are many in the Eastern Shore community with grave concerns about the process of identifying and implementing a Marine Protected Area. Fair enough.
There was also a significant group in attendance who appreciated the transparency and openness of this process. They believe we are dealing with a work in progress and only 18-24 months from now will we be able to decide whether this development will be helpful. Please put me in this latter category: cautiously hopeful, and more than willing to listen carefully.
I come into this discussion as a lobster exporter with 24 employees. I’m anxious to learn the potential of a new platform that could differentiate and elevate our local fishery, not to mention increase experiential tourism. There are three points I keep in mind:
First, Marine Protected Areas are new to us and new to this area. But we are being offered a blank slate in the scheme of things. The local Advisory Committee with representatives from area organizations will engage with the Federal Government. There will be multiple opportunities for individuals to seek answers and to influence the final decisions.
I understand why people would like ironclad answers straight away. But we can’t get to answers without going through the process first. In working through the process, we’ll have a chance to learn what opportunities our communities might realize, as well as what we risk.
Second, as a business person, I’ve learned that in most negotiations, you give up something to obtain something. I am as concerned as anyone about the impacts upon the fishing community and the associated “way of life” issues. I am fairly certain we can negotiate substantial gains without conceding anything that is troublesome, a win/win.
Third, for some of us, this MPA proposal brings up echoes of the National Park Experience of the 1970’s, when the federal government pushed a proposal upon us with no opportunity for intervention. The MPA process is fairly transparent, with many opportunities for all members of the community to make their concerns heard in the coming months. The openness this time around is a huge change. We’re not repeating the debacle of 1972.
Marine Protected Areas are an important topic. I’m just hoping that as a community, we have the patience to wait for the facts and listen to all the arguments before we decide pro or con. The more we can inform ourselves, the better the outcome.
Stewart Lamont is the managing director of the Tangier Lobster Company