The image of the solitary Maine fisherman is part of American culture. These independent, resourceful and hardworking people are so interwoven in our perception of the Maine Coast that it would be difficult to imagine our communities without them.

As the human population and its demand on the earth’s bounty grows, the strain on fisheries and harvesters is becoming increasingly evident. The November decision by the New England Fishery Management Council to cut the allowable catch of herring by 40 percent is one of the most recent and visible signs that things are changing for Maine fishermen.

Lobstermen, in particular, will be hard hit by this sharp reduction in the bait supply, and repercussions will likely be felt throughout fishing communities as people search for other ways to attract lobsters to their traps.

As challenging as it appears to be to find a suitable bait that won’t spread freshwater pathogens to the sea or cause other, as yet unidentified, problems, the greatest obstacle may be that very independence that typifies Maine lobstermen. People who spend the majority of their workday alone or in pairs are often ill-suited for the hours of discussion and debate that will be necessary before a solution to this latest crisis is found.

Only about 20 percent of license holders are members of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, and there is general agreement that harvesters and dealers have a strong distrust of one another.

At the same time, some lobstermen are recognizing the need to work together to redefine and reach out to markets for their catch. Aside from issues of bait consumption, Maine’s lobster fishery is among the healthiest and most sustainable worldwide, and our local harvesters need to develop that message and deliver it to the people who are the end users of Maine’s most well-known product.

It is often said that decisions are made by those who show up. In the case of fisheries management, attendance at hearings and meetings is dominated by government employees and representatives of interested nonprofit organizations. While these parties often have much to offer, their consensus is meaningless without the support of fishermen.

In addition to a reputation for resourcefulness, Maine lobstermen are often portrayed as being territorial and contentious. But as much as they can tell you that this spot or that shoal is where their families have fished for generations, the men and women who work the sea will also acknowledge that there are no real boundaries out there. The decision-making skills that bring success on the waters of Penobscot Bay are needed in meeting rooms in Augusta, Portsmouth, Boston and beyond.

If they are to maintain the traditions and communities that have enriched Maine for centuries, lobstermen must come ashore this summer ready to sit down, listen to all those at the table, and offer up solutions to the growing list of challenges they face.