ROCKPORT — Like the invisible at the moment early signs of spring, students from the eight Hancock and Washington County high schools in the Eastern Maine Skippers program gathered at the recent Maine Fishermen’s Forum to display the bright greenish edge of the state’s rapidly graying fishing industry.
While many of the forum’s panel discussions and workshops were laden with scientific expertise and practical experience on and around the water, the Eastern Maine Skippers posited the idea that members of local communities can work together to restore their local fisheries. Dozens of students displayed posters outlining their innovative approaches to the problem and the resolute commitment of the young people from those communities to get something done.
The students came from as far Downeast as Jonesport, Beals Island and the communities served by Narraguagus High School in Harrington, from the remote offshore islands of Vinalhaven and North Haven — less remote to the Samoset Resort in Rockport, not far from the Rockland Harbor ferry terminal, than to most of Maine — and from Mount Desert Island, Ellsworth, the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle. All of them were brimming with ideas.
Students from Narraguagus High School in Harrington outlined local approaches to dealing with a problem that occupied a lot of attention at the forum: how to prevent, or at least reduce, interactions between endangered right whales and fishing gear.
A group of girls from Jonesport-Beals High School introduced the idea of bringing a retail fish market to Jonesport, a major fishing harbor that sends virtually everything that crosses the dock out of town as a wholesale product.
Skyla Libby, one of the students involved in the project, said she was absolutely certain there was a large enough population in the area, especially in summer, to sustain a retail market.
A crew from George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill recounted their exploration of how the changes in the region’s ecology are affecting the region’s alewife fishery — once a significant source of bait for the lobster industry and an important source of food and income to coastal residents.
Bait issues, in fact, occupied the attention of several groups.
Students from Mount Desert Island High School worked on a project tying changes in the herring population to the rising cost of lobster bait and exploring whether “alternative baits’ might be an answer.
Seven Jonesport-Beals students, several of whom fish when they’re not in school, also focused on ways to improve the availability of bait, a concern shared by a contingent from Ellsworth High School.
The various projects were prepared as parts of the Eastern Maine Skippers program focus on having students identify issues and opportunities in fisheries management or restoration, find a “solution pathway” to the problem they have identified and then work to implement that solution.
The Eastern Maine Skippers Program is a collaborative effort of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries based in Stonington and the Hancock county-based Rural Aspirations Project. According to its website, the program’s focus is on providing students with the core knowledge and skills needed to participate in co-managed fisheries, working with scientists and regulators to sustain the fisheries they depend upon as well as to run successful and adaptable businesses.