Fisheries Center Expanding on Foundation of Recent Success

by Mike Crowe

Eastern Maine Skippers Program “COHORT” day event at the Schoodic Institute, Winter Harbor, Maine in September 2017. The Maine Center For Coastal Fisheries established the Skippers Program for coastal high school students. The program, based on hands-on experience, research and other sustainable fisheries activities, will be expanded by the MCCF. Fishermen’s Voice photo

The new executive director of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries (MCCF) in Stonington, Maine, Paul Anderson, said the success of the organization’s signature Eastern Maine Skippers Program ensures that it will be reinforced and additional fisheries programs added. The Eastern Maine Skippers Program combines high school curricula with hands-on fisheries-related science, research and practice in the field. The Skippers program is managed through a partnership with the Rural Aspirations Program and MCCF and added two coastal high schools this year. Anderson said the goal is to continue to grow the Skippers program.

Anderson, formerly the Sea Grant director at the University of Maine in Orono, became MCCF executive director on January 1st, after founding director Robin Alden retired. Alden had been involved in the management, restoration and preservation of Maine coastal fisheries for more than 40 years. One of Anderson’s jobs will be to develop funding for MCCF.

In addition to state grants and private philanthropic funding the MCCF will be starting a new partnership with NOAA and the Maine Department of Marine Resources. This partnership will be asking if sustainable fisheries are attainable through ecosystem-based management in the Gulf of Maine, and how and what science is required to make that happen.

One example of habitat-conscious management is an experimental hook and line ground fishing program called the “Sentinel Survey” in which fishermen use hand gear and longline gear to catch groundfish that are used to gather data and can be sold by the fishermen. Anderson said, “Some of the fishing methods (such as heavy dragging gear) used in the recent past may have done more damage than we knew.” Longline gear (200 hooks per line in this case) is also used in this project. Stations, dozens in a grid in the ocean, are set up and data collected on what is caught in each station. Results in each station are analyzed and compared.

Tim Rider fishes hook and line, rod and reel, out of Eliot, Maine as part of the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector which is managed by MCCF. He is successful and sells his catch locally. Last year was Rider’s second year in a program that will be expanded in 2018. In addition to no gear impact on the ecosystem, the fishing method brings in larger fish, there is no bycatch and the fish are landed in much better condition, which affects quality and price. Operating costs are much lower than conventional draggers and trawlers, by using a smaller boat, a smaller fuel-efficient engine, simple much less expensive hand gear and reduced maintenance costs. These are some of the factors that might make it possible to bring hook and line fishing to the commercial fishery level again.

The importance of fish habitat has been acknowledged by NOAA. About five years ago NOAA established a habitat blueprint for 10 coastal areas in the U.S. One of them is the Penobscot River watershed. NOAA engaged the University of Maine Sea Grant for communications support and wants to work with MCCF on habitat restoration and protection, and research to understand the impact of those efforts. The MCCF has worked with individuals and groups in the Bagaduce River watershed to restore alewife habitat. One indicator of the effectiveness of habitat restoration has been the dramatic increase in the number anadromous fish, alewives and others, returning to spawn following the removal of some dams and rebuilding fish ladders around others. These fish become prey for ground fish in the Gulf of Maine.

Anderson will be meeting with scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole, and the Maine DMR to develop a research framework to explore how ecosystem based management might look in the future. The MCCF will play a role in coordinating this five-year research and development effort and will strive to attract both government and private funding.