Eastern Maine Skippers Program

Working on the Fisheries of Their Future

by Laurie Schreiber

Eastern Maine Skippers Program in school year 2016-2017, George Stevens Academy students visited Little Island Oyster Company and rotate through the process of collecting oysters. Here James sorts the babies to go back out to the cages. EMSP photo

Hurricane Island Chowder made with the invasive green crab, along with Green Crab Mac & Cheese and Fried Green Crab & Dip were some of the dishes made in 2014 by high school students with the Eastern Maine Skippers Program.

In 2015, student projects included improvements in lobster handling and storage systems on lobster boats, and the invention of an environmentally friendly lobster buoy scrubbing system that reached a 3D printer prototype stage and connections with a manufacturer in China.

This year, one group of students charted an aquaculture lease area on Vinalhaven and is in the process of exploring line culture for kelp. Other groups are exploring scallop culture, redesigning ashrimp beam trawl, growing mussels in order to examine the effects of micro-plastics plaguing the ocean environment, and more.

Skippers Program students creating and sampling recipes for green crab. Finding uses for green crab is intended to manage the green crab population. EMSP photo

This real-world research is just part of the experiential and academic opportunities that have made this program a resounding success in eastern Maine, so much so that it’s drawing attention from schools in southern Maine and even elsewhere around the country, said Val Peacock, curriculum leader with EMSP and an educational design specialist with the Rural Aspirations Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to expand educational opportunities in rural Maine and has been supporting EMSP by guiding the program and teachers in the development of curriculum and supporting and training teachers in proficiency and project-based teaching practices.

EMSP has evolved over the past four years as it builds staff and resources and becomes an accepted part of the schools, she said.

Each year starts with a focus, and each school group decides how it wants to tackle the topic.

The first year explored the viability of an inshore winter flounder fishery.

Hands on experience is a key component of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, Here George Stevens Academy student Isaiah washes oysters at the Little Island Oyster Company. EMSP photo

The second year addressed the question, “How can the impact of the green crab population be controlled in a way that conserves the marine ecosystem and encourages new industry?” That year’s activities kicked off with a visit to Hurricane Island in Penobscot Bay, where staff from the Hurricane Island Foundation, Penobscot East Resource Center, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources introduced students to the green crab issue in Maine and hands-on activities such as field sampling techniques and developing a marketable product made from green crabs.

The third year’s focus was lobsters. Students examined and analyzed international shipping, the efficiency of traditional traps, improved handling and storage systems for boats, and the efficiency of lobster boats.

The topic for this school year is, “How do we maintain sustainable ocean food systems?” Students are looking at the opportunities and challenges for commercial fisheries and small-scale aquaculture; how species from different trophic levels –such as rockweed, clams, alewives, and codfish—are connected through the ocean food system; how communities use resources provided by the ocean for food and income; and how sustainability is defined when talking about ocean food systems.

Mikayla, a student at Mount Desert Island High School, dissects an oyster at The Darling Marine Center. EMSP photo

EMSP started in 2012 as a collaboration between Deer Isle Stonington High School and Penobscot East Resource Center. According to program information, the goal is to provide aspiring commercial fishermen and others interested in marine careers with the core knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the 21st century. Looking toward co-managed fisheries, EMSP students work closely with community partners including local fishermen, scientists, fisheries organizations and regulators, gaining real-world experience and the opportunity to connect with mentors in commercial fishing and a range of marine careers. Students remain in their own schools while forming an annual regional cohort which draws on a shared curriculum, online interaction and meets together a minimum of four times each academic year to develop relationships among the region’s future fishery leaders.

In addition to Deer Isle/Stonington, the other high schools include Ellsworth, George Stevens Academy, Jonesport-Beals, Mount Desert Island, Narraguagus, North Haven, and Vinalhaven. In four years, EMSP has grown from 40 to 100 students in the eight schools.

In January, students from the eight schools met at the Schoodic Institute in Winter Harbor to hear presentations on Ocean Grabbing, Marketing Fish, Fishing Gear, Watersheds and the Food Web, Gyotaku Printmaking (making prints from fish), and Video Basics.

EMSP is a $325,000 per year program. Sixty percent of the program is foundation-funded with the balance from corporate and private donations. The program is in the second year of a three-year, $100,000/year grant from the J.T. Gorman Foundation. Other foundation funding includes The Betterment Fund, Long Cove Foundation, and Eaton Foundation. The program was also awarded a grant from the Maine Lobster Research and Development Fund in 2016 for the development of lobster biology and management curriculum.