Welcome to the Real World

by Mike Crowe

Eastern Maine Skippers Program students from eight coastal Maine high schools participating in a team building event in which students demonstrated fisheries related skills — everything from knot-tying to crab-picking. Three times a year students from all eight schools gather for this special event which this fall included developing information gathering and communications skills presented by professional journalists. Fishermen’s Voice photo

The 2017-2018 Eastern Maine Skippers Program got off to a grand start on Tuesday, September 26 with the largest event in the program’s history. Over 150 students, presenters, staff, and media converged at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor for a day of team building, connecting, and learning, referred to in the program as a Cohort Day. The Eastern Maine Skippers Program has three Cohort Days annually.

Guided by this year’s overarching question—What can individuals and communities do to manage and restore local fisheries?—keynote speaker Julie Keene, of Lubec, delivered a passionate speech that touched on honoring Maine’s fishing heritage, honoring lost fishermen, and believing in the power of Maine’s fishing communities to chart their own future. She warned fishermen of the kind of development that could do them harm, pointing out problems she sees in the rockweed harvest and salmon aquaculture. Keene’s advice to the Skippers was to stay alert to what is going on in their communities and ask tough questions. “You may not be popular if you go against the status quo, but stick to what you believe in and never give up,” she said to the students. They gave her a rousing applause.

After a dynamic team building event in which students demonstrated fisheries related skills—everything from knot tying to crab picking—they got down to the business of learning about real world problems. Eight seasoned fisheries journalists moderated panels where representatives of all aspects of fisheries talked about the issues Maine’s coastal communities needed to address in order to secure a healthy future.

Among the panelists were fishermen, marine scientists, a marine patrol officer, journalists, seafood dealers and a former state senator. Panelists offered students everything from information and insights to options and advice. On the Jonesport-Beals High School panel lobsterman Hannah Carver talked about bait fisheries. Seafood dealer Danny Rodge warned about the dangers of algal blooms and toxic maladies such as Amnesiac Shellfish Poisoning, which has shut down many clam flats in Maine for the second year in a row. Marine biologist Kyle Pepperman spoke about the productive potential of area clam flats. Thousands, if not millions, of dollars of potential production are achievable, he suggested, provided the right steps were taken to protect the flats.

Mount Desert Island High School panelist Dennis Damon spoke to students about past fishing practices. Damon brought an old wood and iron fairleads, a roller of sorts that was used on dories when hauling long lines by hand. Fishermen pulled the line strung with hundreds of baited hooks for catching cod, over the wooden wheel of the fairleads and coiled it in tubs. Pat Shepard, manager of the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector, discussed stop seining. A technique in which, when herring swam into a cove, a seine would be run across the mouth and trap the fish. Stop seines used a small fraction of the fuel used by midwater trawlers per ton of fish landed.

Julie Keene, Lubec, Maine delivered a passionate speech touching on honoring Maine’s fishing heritage, honoring lost fishermen, and believing in the power of Maine’s fishing communities to chart their own future. Fishermen’s Voice photo

Some of the other topics covered by the eight professional journalists, and 20 community members who took time out of their busy lives to offer their expertise to the EMSP students, included: Options for young islanders, alewives and dam removal, kelp farming, building a seafood processing infrastructure, alternatives to lobstering, bait issues, and clam management.

Besides those mentioned above, participants came from all over the coast. Veteran journalists from six Maine newspapers including: National Fisherman Magazine, Fishermen’s Voice, Working Waterfront, The Ellsworth American, Bangor Daily News, Machias Valley News Observer; Johanna Billings, a freelancer and a documentary film maker, Alan Kryzak.

Panelists came from a cross section of industry, science and management in each of the communities where the EMSP program operates.

The Eastern Maine Skippers Program began in 2012 as collaboration between the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries (MCCF), which is the fiscal sponsor of the program, and the Rural Aspirations Project (RAP). RAP is a small non-profit and the curriculum lead for the EMSP program. Its mission is to expand educational opportunities in rural Maine.

The EMSP pilot year was in 2013. For more information about RAP: ruralaspirations.org and for the Maine Center for Community Fisheries: coastalfisheries.org. Live links for both are at fishermensvoice.com.

Students from these eight schools participate in the program: Vinalhaven High School; North Haven High School; Deer Isle Stonington High School; George Stevens High School in Blue Hill; Ellsworth High School; Mount Desert Island High School; Narraguagus High School in Harrington; and Jonesport-Beals High School.

The EMSP has seen an enrollment increase from 65 students in the 2016 school year to 102 students in the 2017 school year. The EMSP plans to continue to more fully implement the program in the eight schools. It is also, said MCCF spokesperson Christina Fifield, “encouraging students to explore their communities by looking at questions around things like the bait supply, river herring restoration, etc. Students will be looking at what is happening in their communities where they may be able to get involved in working to make marine related improvements.”

Dennis Damon, chairman of the board of directors at MCCS, former senator and commercial fisherman said, “The purpose of the cohort is to have all the students together to put a face on a name and to help initiate collaborations between schools.” He went on to say he was “thinking about the group cohort meetings in a longer lasting way. As these students continue on with the rest of their lives, the connections they make in the EMSP can remain part of their social, economic and community foundation.”

A complete list of the panelists, moderators and journalists is available here.