First published in Landings, February, 2017

From March 2 to 4, the Samoset Resort in Rockport will be a loud and crowded place. The annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum will once again pack the conference rooms and hallways with those involved in the state’s many commercial fisheries. “This year’s Forum looks to be a great one,” said Chilloa Young, Forum organizer. “The Trade Show offers new exhibitors, and there will be some very interesting seminars this year. We are particularly excited about the Red Cross Training for CPR and First Aid Training which are being offered for the first time at the Forum. We encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity!”

The annual Forum is full of surprises.
Photo by M. Young

Thursday kicks off a full day of presentations on Maine’s shellfish industry. The soft-shell clam harvest in 2015 brought more than $22 million to the state, making it an economic mainstay of Downeast Maine. Yet warming water may prompt more shellfish bed closures due to toxic phytoplankton, such as the unusual closures that occurred throughout New England due to domoic acid last fall. Participants will be able to question Department of Marine Resources (DMR) biologists about testing programs and other activities related to shellfish management.

That afternoon, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association is hosting officials from NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) to lead a seminar on improving fishermen’s safety at sea. “Giving Safety a Competitive Advantage” will focus on preventing death due to a fall overboard by use of a personal flotation device (PFD). A multi-year NIOSH research project kicked off this winter. The first phase involves working with lobstermen from Maine and Massachusetts to test wear a variety of PFDs and make suggestions on their redesign so that they are more comfortable and easier for lobstermen to work in. The Forum seminar will give participants an opportunity to try on various models of newer PFDs, discuss barriers to working in PFD’s aboard a vessel and explore additional issues related to falls overboard.

On Friday, the Forum moves into full swing. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association will hold its 63rd Annual Meeting with members at 9 a.m. The New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) will host a public scoping hearing on its proposed Groundfish Monitoring Amendment. The amendment has generated much controversy among fishermen because it shifts the cost for on-board monitors from the National Marine Fisheries Service to the fishermen.

There will be a morning presentation on halibut management and science. Halibut is a seasonal fishery in Maine, taking place typically in May and early June. Managers are concerned that halibut may be overfished and will be reviewing its management this year. The Council has asked the DMR to review how it manages halibut. Representatives from DMR, the NEFMC, and the National Marine Fisheries Service will discuss possible management changes. In the afternoon, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will hold an open forum, taking questions from the audience about federal fisheries management.

Of particular interest to lobstermen will be the seminar on herring and lobster bait scheduled for Friday afternoon. This summer saw a crunch in herring supply which drove prices up and frustrated many lobstermen, particularly in smaller, hard-to-reach harbors where deliveries were infrequent. The DMR stepped in to ensure that herring, although limited in supply, remained available throughout the late summer and early fall. Now the question is how to avoid a similar crisis next year if the herring once again prove scarce in Area 3. Representatives from DMR, the NEFMC, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will discuss the upcoming season.

On Saturday the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association will hold its annual meeting. Elvers remain a profitable fishery in the state, worth more than $11 million in value in 2015. The DMR instituted a swipe-card system for elver fishermen and dealers in 2016 which has allowed managers to track landings more efficiently. Currently fishermen are limited to 9,688 pounds in total; that quota is divided up among individual elver harvesters.

Also on Saturday the DMR and Council staff will present an overview of the Coral Amendment under development, including a review of potential closures proposed to protect deep-water corals in the Gulf of Maine. The NEFMC has crafted a management plan that identifies four areas in the near-shore Gulf of Maine for protection: Mount Desert Rock, Outer Schoodic Ridge, Jordan Basin and Lindenkohl Knoll. Maine lobstermen fish the first two areas; Massachusetts lobstermen frequent the second two. Written into the draft management plan are two regulatory options for these sites. The first would prohibit bottom-tending gears; the second would prohibit mobile bottom-tending gears. Maine lobstermen, particularly those from Downeast counties, want to ensure that lobster gear is exempted from any closures. Moderated by DMR external affairs director Terry Stockwell, this session is sure to be informative and lively.

The Alewife Harvesters of Maine will hold its annual meeting on Saturday. Each spring alewives return to their lakes of origin to spawn. The seasonal run is a boon for lobstermen, who use the oily little fish as bait at a time when herring supply tends to be low. Very few states still have sustainable wild alewife runs, making management of this species of particular importance to biologists as well as lobstermen.

DMR science staff will speak about the state of Maine’s lobster stocks and present the preliminary 2016 landings figures in their annual lobster science update. The presentation will include the results of the department’s monitoring programs, specifically the sea sampling, ventless trap survey, inshore trawl survey, and settlement survey. University of Maine researchers will talk about the Rapid Resource Program, a new resource for industry. One issue sure to be covered is the decline during the past three years in juvenile lobster settlement along the coast.

Dr. Jean Lavallée, a lobster veterinarian and the region’s leading lobster health expert, will present a workshop entitled “Avoid a Crustacean Crisis” Saturday afternoon chronicling a lobster’s journey from the comfort of the ocean floor to a processing plant or holding facility. A lobster’s physiology makes it surprisingly prone to stress and injury. In addition, environmental factors such as diet, water temperatures and molt cycle can affect its health. Handling practices and the holding environment can put stress on the animal. Lavallée will explain how minimizing stress and injury to lobsters will produce a healthier lobster and more profits.

On Saturday afternoon the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative’s (MLMC) executive director Matt Jacobson will host a review of the Collaborative’s efforts in 2016. The MLMC was established in 2013 by the Maine Legislature and is funded by a surcharge on lobstermen and seafood processors’ licenses. Since its inception, the MLMC has worked with the marketing firm Weber Shandwick to boost demand for Maine lobster among East Coast chefs and food professionals. Its “Maine after Midnight” events in major cities last summer brought Maine lobstermen face-to-face with leading chefs, helping to educate those professionals on the versatility of Maine lobster.

And, as always, the Fishermen’s Forum will be packed with exhibitors featuring products and services of interest to fishermen. The Forum’s social calendar will include the popular seafood reception and silent auction to benefit the annual Scholarship Fund on Thursday night. Friday night will feature a seafood dinner and live auction, also to benefit the Scholarship Fund, which always makes for a fun and energetic evening. The scholarship awards will be given on Saturday night at the traditional evening banquet and dance. That night also features the annual Golden V-notch award, the DMR Officer of the Year award, and other recognitions.

For more information on the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, visit