STONINGTON — Seafood harvesters face a sea of challenges ahead. Three organizations are working to figure out how training programs can help the next generation weather the storm.
Maine Sea Grant, the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association have all teamed up through a federal program to help prepare up-and-coming fishermen and aquaculturists.
In December, Congress passed the Young Fishermen’s Development Act to preserve the country’s fishing heritage through training and assistance for commercial fishermen. Funding has yet to be allocated for any work, but these groups are working to figure out opportunities and challenges ahead, so that when money is made available, they can hit the ground running.
“We’re going to be reaching out to tons of fishermen, people involved in the aquaculture industry and a lot of young folks,” said Natalie Springuel, a Bar Harbor-based marine extension associate with Maine Sea Grant.
Being successful in the fisheries takes a lot of different skills.
“It’s more than just catching fish nowadays,” said Paul Anderson, the executive director of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington.
In addition to technical aspects like knowing how to lay traps, fishermen and aquaculturists need to have a handle on management skills and know how to develop a business plan. It takes financial literacy; a working knowledge of insurance could be needed as well as being able to understand the intricacies of policy making as new rules for fisheries are currently being hashed out.
“The intent is to talk to all the folks in it already and identify what is working really well in these training programs and what could use a little boosting,” Springuel said.
There are already ongoing efforts. Anderson’s organization runs the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, which provides students at nine eastern Maine high schools with knowledge and skills needed to participate in coastal fisheries. Washington County Community College ran a lobster course and recently launched a coastal fisheries and marine technology degree. The school is also developing an aquaculture specific degree program.
Anderson emphasized that the training program work wasn’t just for young sea harvesters, but also for people who may be new to the industry. A report on the groups’ findings is due in the coming months.
Despite the ongoing struggles for the industry, Anderson wanted people to continue to sustainably fish and keep a way of life in Maine going.
“Fishing is a great vocation and can be prosperous if you know what you’re doing,” he said.