Next month fishermen, regulators, scientists, students and many others involved in New England’s diverse fisheries will gather at the Samoset Resort in Rockport for the 45th Maine Fishermen’s Forum. As ever, the three-day event will feature seminars on current fisheries issues, such as scallop aquaculture, climate change, and right whale protection measures, as well as more lighthearted events, such as the Food Guys cooking show and the Friday night live auction.
The Forum kicks off on Thursday, February 28 with an all-day focus on Maine’s shellfish industries. In addition, there will be a public scoping hearing on Amendment 21 to the New England Fishery Management Council’s Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan. The draft amendment contains new measures for the Northern Gulf of Maine Management Area and changes to the Limited Access General Category individual fishing quota limits. New England Fisheries Science Center oceanographer Jim Manning will review 2018 findings of the environmental monitoring program known as eMolt. The program attaches temperature sensors to lobster traps and trawls to record water temperatures at depth, data of growing importance as the Gulf of Maine continues to warm. And throughout the weekend, Maine Sea Grant will host a mobile recording studio parked in the Samoset parking lot to continue capturing “Voices of the Fishermen’s Forum,” interviews with fishermen and others pursuing their livelihoods on the water.
On Friday the Maine Lobstermen’s Association holds its 65th annual members meeting. This will mark the first meeting presided over by MLA’s President, Kristan Porter, of Cutler. The MLA will update its membership on the past year’s work advocating for lobstermen on bait allocations, whale rules, ocean energy development, developing better life jackets, and more. The MLA will also explore what the pending herring quota cuts will mean for Maine lobstermen and discuss strategies to keep lobstermen fishing and profitable.
Also Friday morning, high school students from the eight Downeast high schools participating in the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, a program of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington, will speak about their ongoing investigation into the question of how technology can be used to support sustainable and successful local fisheries in the state. The MLA and DMR will lead a session on the status of right whales and management efforts to protect them. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is evaluating the relationship between lobster gear and right whale mortalities and is likely to promulgate additional regulations to protect the whales. The session will include an update on the status of the right whale population, an overview of the management processes underway, an update on the pending court case, and review the preliminary results of Maine’s vertical line project.
On Friday afternoon, Department of Marine Resources staff will give the annual lobster science and management update. Preliminary data suggest a good 2018 season, with landings slightly less than 119 million pounds. The session will also explore other management issues affecting the lobster industry including bait. NOAA officials will follow that session with an open forum on fisheries management; the public is encouraged to take part in that session.
On Saturday the Maine Elver Fishermen’s Association and Maine Alewife Harvesters Association will hold their respective annual meetings. Staff and board members from the new Maine Ocean School in Searsport will speak about the magnet high school and its mission to provide a high school education focused on Maine’s maritime connection. Fishermen and others involved in protecting the working waterfront in Portland and other Maine communities will talk about the recent events in Portland and the development pressures being felt in Boothbay Harbor and other ports.
The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative will present highlights from its 2018 marketing efforts and review its new focus for 2019. The Collaborative, which was reauthorized by the Maine Legislature in January 2018, plans to concentrate on educating food and seafood buyers about the Maine lobster fishery and the culinary qualities of Maine soft-shell lobster. A new seminar, on financial planning for retirement for fishermen, also will take place in the afternoon.
A topic on everyone’s minds is the impact of warming sea temperatures in the Gulf of Maine on the area’s fisheries. As the water warms, species previously found in southern New England, such as black sea bass, are making their way into Maine waters. Will the state be ready to take advantage of these changes and what are the regulatory implications?
The Forum is known not only for its interesting seminars and mix of attendees but for its social aspects. On Thursday night there will be the popular seafood reception and silent auction to benefit the Forum’s student scholarship fund. Friday night features the annual fish dinner and live auction, an energetic event also to benefit the scholarship fund. The weekend closes with the annual banquet and awards ceremony on Saturday night. Recognition will be given to the Maine Patrol officer of the year and an individual involved in the lobster fishery.
The University of Southern Maine School of Nursing will hold its health clinic throughout the Forum, offering free blood pressure checks, glucose screening, and cholesterol screening. Dr. Jensen from Maine Dermatology will conduct skin cancer checkups while a Coast Guard-approved First Aid and CPR Training will take place from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday (registration required). And of course, the popular Trade Show will offer attendees everything from oilskins to engines during the Forum.
We will see you there!