On October 4, the Maine Seafood Industry Gubernatorial Forum took place at the Strand Theatre in Rockland. The two-hour public event was hosted by the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Maine Lobster Dealers Association, Maine Lobstering Union, the Alewife Harvesters of Maine and the Maine Aquaculture Association. The moderator was seafood journalist James Wright from the Global Aquaculture Association. The following is an edited account of Mills’ answers to the moderator’s questions.
Mills — I am aware of the issues facing fishermen, issues like the high cost of health insurance, taxes and regulation, an aging population, fewer people to work these jobs anymore, who you are going to leave the business to. The risks that people take to bring us our food is what I think about every day.
Question: How do you plan to address the job of DMR commissioner? What are the skills this person will need?
Mills — I’m not here to promise anyone a job. I will be looking for people in my cabinet with expertise in the field that they govern and to enforce the laws. People with integrity, honesty and a good work ethic. Someone who understands the various fishing industries, the growing aquaculture industry, someone who hopefully has come up through the ranks, someone who can funnel information from industry to me, the chief executive, someone who can be a good messenger between the industry, consumers and policy makers, the legislators, someone who is a good communicator and has a good work ethic, and is available to talk to the policy makers, the legislators, on critical policy issues. There’s been too little of that in the last eight years. We need openness and transparency.
Question: There is a lot of concern among lobstermen about right whale regulations and extreme cuts to the herring quota next year. How will you ensure that the iconic lobster industry is fairly represented?
Mills — We don’t know why there’s been a reduction in births, scientists say that it might be because the whales have to travel further to get the plankton they eat because of climate change. That’s one factor. As far as I know from reading the newspapers, not one right whale has been found deceased or injured in the Gulf of Maine from fishing gear from Maine fishermen. So I think that’s an important thing. Until we find causation, until they pin this on fishing gear and on Maine fishermen, they shouldn’t be imposing these kinds of limits and restrictions which could be devastating to the fishermen in Maine. Commissioner Keliher was quoted as saying this will be the largest challenge for this fishery and I believe he’s right. There are lawsuits going on now in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, federal lawsuits by NGOs who brought suits against the federal government. The State of Maine is prepared to file an amicus brief in the next month or so in those lawsuits to support the fishermen and DMR in these matters. But until they prove that the mortalities of right whales have any relationship back to the Maine fisheries, they should not be seriously considering those kinds of restrictions on our fishermen.
Question: Would you use the resources of the Attorney General’s office to fight what could be onerous whale regulations throughout the court system?
Mills — As you probably know, the Attorney General’s office is separate from the chief executive’s. But the Attorney General’s office also represents the DMR and we are now representing the DMR on this very issue and we are filing briefs in these proceedings.
Question: What steps would you take to ensure that the working waterfront is prioritized and protected throughout Maine?
Mills — This is an issue I feel pretty passionate about. Not being a fisherman myself, I’ve met with so many people who are outraged about the encroachment on our fishing wharves. When I was in the Legislature we fought tooth and nail to get a Constitutional amendment enacted. We went out to the Maine people and the Maine constitution was changed so that waterfront land that supports commercial fishing can be exempt from the part of the constitution that requires fair value taxation. You can tax at the current use. We thought that would be great, to allow fishing wharves to thrive, places where people can land their fish and pick up their bait. Then stuff happened in Portland and in 2010 there was an ordinance and now they’re not really complying, I think, with their own waterfront protection ordinances.
But for 30 years we’ve also had this thing called the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF). A few years ago, after that Constitutional Amendment, they amended that to say you can use the LMF bond money to buy up easement and purchase land that includes fishing activities, waterfront lands for commercial fishing. We’ve got to promote the LMF, fully fund it, not stymie it, not prevent people from even participating in decision making, not sit on those bonds for years at a time, fully fund it as the people have voted to do over and over again. And fund it proportionately for oceanfront, waterfront, commercial fishing purposes as for inland easements to protect farmland and the like. We’ve got to fully fund the LMF especially the part that applies to working waterfronts. That’s a passion of mine and I promise I will work for that.
Question: What is your position on development of ocean energy resources off the coast and how will you balance this new industry and growing investment against Maine’s longstanding fishing traditions and way of life?
Mills — We have about 186 gigawatts of offshore wind power within 50 miles offshore. If we use just 1% of that that’s equivalent to two Maine Yankee power plants. A heck of a lot of energy. The role of the fishing industry is one of partner with this potential resource. The way I see it, we’re going to have to have permitting, we’re going to have to have leases for these offshore sites, and I think the fishing industry should be a partner, should be at the table. We need a full and transparent siting process with all affected stakeholders at the table, with BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management), with the fishing industry, with the State of Maine. We can form a state and federal and BOEM partnership to determine what sites would be most appropriate for offshore wind farms and how those wind farms should be situated. We can design those places together with minimal impact on various fisheries. There’s also a potential for coordination with mussel farming. You can have a mussel farm associated with a wind farm. You could have fish farming in those areas. I think the offshore wind industry also poses the potential for off season employment for fishermen. I think that’s an exciting potential. And if any fisheries are lost, if any fishing gear is lost to any particular fisherman, they should be fairly compensated. This is what’s happened in Europe, in other countries. They’ve had a partnership to determine the fair siting of wind farms and any fishermen who’ve lost fishing grounds have been compensated. But we need to base those decisions on sound science as well, in collaboration with one another.
Question: Are you a good listener and who will you reach out to to educate yourself on Maine seafood and how to help the industry move forward responsibly?
Mills — When I was District Attorney in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, I was in my mid-30s, a career woman, no kids, never married. I met and married my husband Stan. He was a widower with five daughters, ages 4 to 16. By God, I learned to listen a lot. And to learn to manage a family and learn about relationships, to manage relationships, the same way I’ve learned to manage relationships in an office of nearly 200 people with a budget of $42 million, an executive agency that I have run for the past six years and then some. I listen to a lot of people every day and make decisions and solve problems because I’m about problem-solving. In my private practice in western Maine I solved a lot of problems for a lot of small businesses and individuals. As AG I make it my mission to solve problems at the broader level, to solve problems for the people of Maine. I’ve tried to do that every day of my life. So I think I’m a good listener. I hope I’m a good learner and a good person to act on what I’ve learned with you in a collaborative way.
Mills had to leave the Forum early to attend another event in Portland. She gave her two-minute closing statement before leaving the Strand stage.
Mills — I was eager to talk about workforce needs, the need for apprenticeship programs, the need for seasonal workers, the need for foreign-born workers, the need for health care for small businesses and the self-employed. The herring fisheries, I wanted to talk about the sea-run restoration projects and private-public partnerships out there and how we can restore river run-herring and what’s happening with the Togus Stream and the NOAA grant earlier this year. And with all the problems we talk about, whether it’s bait or environmental issues, right whales or whatnot, I’m an eternal optimist. I know we can solve problems. I know we can do that together. I worked on the Appropriations Committee for four years during some of the toughest economic years in Maine’s history. We put together a bi-partisan budget, we did it working across the aisle, collaboratively, and figuring out what the people wanted us to do and listening to them. And I’ve run an executive agency with a $42 million budget and I know how to hire and fire and manage people and manage budgets and manage public policy.
When it comes down to it, I want to be the Recruiter in Chief. I want to bring new business into Maine and expand existing businesses in Maine and recruit people to return to Maine and expanding our work force. I want to be the Promoter in Chief when it comes to telling people what a great place Maine is, great people, great work ethic, great natural resources. And I want to be the Closer in Chief. When it comes to cutting deals on behalf of the people of Maine, my word will be my bond. I won’t renege on contracts. I’ll send a good message to the people of the world and to business in other states that we are good for our word.
Fundamentally, if I’m privileged to be your Governor come January of next year, I’ll work with all four members of the Congressional delegation to get the job done. Standing up to the federal government when they don’t know how to count fish, standing up for our interests, standing up to businesses that want to exploit us. And you’ll find in my office, I promise, an open door, an open mind and an open heart. That’s my promise to you. I’ve stood up for Maine people my entire life, in the private sector and the public sector. I’ll do it again as your Governor. Thank you.