This article is originally from the Bangor Daily News and was posted on the website.

State of Maine flies its flag, up to a limit
Bangor Daily News, Bangor, Maine
Oct. 27, 2001, by Bruce Kyle

OWLS HEAD, Maine - In those first awful days after Sept. 11, air freight shipments throughout the country were banned. Here in Maine, this had the potential to be disastrous for the lobster industry and its highly perishable product. A vigorous advertising campaign, joined by many public officials, urged lobster consumption as a patriotic gesture. The public responded and disaster was averted.

When Master Chief James Kalloch retires from the United States Navy in early 2003, he wants to resume the life he left behind when he dropped out of high school back in 1970 to serve his country. He wants to be an Owls Head lobsterman.

Jim Kalloch has served his country well - his rank, that of the highest noncommissioned officer in the Navy, is ample evidence. His problem, according to the state law that decides who gets a lobster license and who does not, is that he's served his country too long.

It takes a lot to befuddle a master chief in the U.S. Navy, so when Jim Kalloch says, "I never in my wildest dreams thought anything like this could happen," figure something's really gone wrong in the way that only happens when lawmakers and lobbyists hook up.

The issue seems simple in these days of flags flying everywhere; it's one of fairness and gratitude. Jim Kalloch grew up in Owls Head, fished from the time he was old enough to stuff a bait bag. He held his first license in 1963, when he was just 11 years old; he held a license the day he walked out of Rockland High and joined the Marines.

Four years in Vietnam and Beirut, three in the reserves and, in 1977, the Navy. Submarines at first, then aircraft carriers. Twice he was stationed at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and renewed his Maine lobster license, the last time in 1995. In 1999, he was transferred to Winter Harbor and, with the 30-year mark just a few years off (the time in the reserves doesn't count), he inquired about getting a license and tags for a modest 200 traps when he retired. Thirty years for his country and all he wanted in return was a piece of paper allowing him to work.

This is where it gets complicated, where the lawmakers and lobbyists come in.

Back in the mid-'90s, long after all the flags that flew everywhere during Desert Storm had been put away, about the time Jim Kalloch was working the flight deck of carriers flying missions into Iraq, the Maine Legislature decided the state's premier fishery needed more conservation. The legislation it produced - with the help of the lobster industry - didn't have nearly as much to do with conserving lobsters (landings remained as high as ever) as it did with keeping outsiders out. By the time Jim Kalloch hit Winter Harbor, a public resource in a public ocean had pretty much been turned into private property.

So in '99 he was told the limited-entry law meant he couldn't get a license because he didn't have a license the year before. Even if he got one, the management zone he wants to fish in - one of seven in the state - is closed, which means three lobstermen have to quit before one new licensee can start and the waiting list to be that one was long. (If you think this had anything to do with conservation, consider the impact one guy with 200 traps would have had in a zone with more than 1,200 lobster licensees, most enjoying a trap limit of 800.)

In 2000, with those flags buried deep in closets and stashed high in attics, the Legislature added some exemptions to the limited-entry restrictions - for high school kids who'd worked as apprentices (most are kids of lobstermen), for former licensees over age 70 and, miraculously, for those who'd left the business to serve in the military.

Problem solved, right?

Wrong. The military exemption only applied to those who'd left to serve just one tour of duty - no more than six years from last license to honorable discharge. Jim Kalloch missed that window of opportunity - last license in '95, discharge in '03. He did get to go before the Legislature's Marine Resources Committee to appeal for special consideration. "Begging in front of 150 people in an open hearing was the most humiliating thing I've ever done," he says. Of course his appeal was rejected.

He was told, however, that he could get an apprentice license and spend a couple of years stuffing bait bags, just like he did when he was 11, rather like his first leave to visit home as a young Marine serving in Vietnam. He had food thrown on him at the Los Angeles airport, he was spat upon at Logan and, when he finally got to Rockland, a cab driver took one look at his uniform, called him a "killer" and refused to drive him to Owls Head. So he walked.

The reason, explicitly stated in discussions at the time, that lawmakers limited the military exemption to one tour - readers with acute sensitivity to outrageous examples of ingratitude should avert their eyes - is that they (and their lobster industry advisors) felt that with one tour you were serving your country. Anything more and you've made a career choice, just like a lobsterman who stays home makes his career choice. Maybe back in 2000 that didn't seem so outrageously ungrateful. Today, we know that most of us just have careers. Others, and U.S. Navy master chiefs surely belong in this category, have something more.

This can be fixed easily and quickly. Lawmakers are preparing for a new session that starts in January. The military exemption limit of one tour can be wiped off the books in a day. We can tell Maine's young men and women who fish that, whether they serve their country for six years or for 30, they'll have their job when they come home. If not, let's just put the flags away. Or at least quit wrapping lobsters in them.

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