ROCKPORT — One of the hottest tickets at the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum is the session led by high school students in the Eastern Maine Skippers Program. Dozens of student groups fanned out around one of the large meeting rooms at the Samoset last Friday for a poster session, discussing their research with fishermen, scientists, policymakers and others.
“The more they talk to people, the more they’re able to refine their idea,” said Jennifer Crandall, a Mount Desert Island High School teacher who’s leading a spring term class as part of the Skippers program this year.
“They meet real people who are interested in this stuff for real, it’s not just a classroom project. They get a little shell-shocked when researchers or people in the industry say, ‘Talk to this person, they have information.’
“So at first it’s scary for them, I think, but they come away feeling much more invested in their project.”
This year, nine high schools that serve fishing communities participated in the program, which is organized by the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. The focus is on building the knowledge and skills future fishermen will need to understand and participate in fisheries management processes and to run adaptable businesses.
MDI has a big group of Skippers this spring. In additional to Crandall’s students, some of whom will also use their Skippers research project as part of their Senior Exhibition project, another group in the Island Pathways program is working on a year-long project, led by Hannah Podurgiel.
One group of seniors, Oliver Blank, Nic Dmitrieff, Ethan Merchant and Porter Isaacs are taking a stab at alternative lobster bait research, a hot topic this year.
“We are hoping that we will find an alternative bait that will be less expensive and just as effective (as herring),” their poster states. “Since the herring quota has made bait much more expensive, we are hoping that these alternatives will be useful for lobstermen struggling with this problem.”
They plan to work with MDI-area fishermen to test bait options including pighide, rockfish, red fish, and perhaps cat food or a synthetic bait. They also distributed a questionnaire at the forum to find out if fishermen had tried these or other alternative baits, and what the results were like.
Other MDI groups are exploring how to reduce the use of plastics in the lobster fishery, the differences between wild-caught and farmed fish and other topics.