News Feature

Augusta
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 30, 2014
Skippers Program granted special license from state to conduct research
Students explore winter flounder fishery

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher, center, talks about the Eastern Maine Skippers Program plan to conduct research on the prospect of implementing a winter flounder fishery in Downeast Maine. More than 40 students participated in the event, including seven students from Deer Isle-Stonington High School.

Photo courtesy of Deer Isle-Stonington High School

by Jessica Brophy

Downeast Maine is home to the two most fishing-dependent counties on the east coast of the United States. Not only is fishing so important to these communities, lobster makes up over 80-percent of the total catch. That makes this area precariously dependent on a single species, according to a press release from the Eastern Maine Skippers Program. What needs to be known to diversify and create a new fishery in Maine?

On January 23, more than 40 students from seven coastal Maine high schools presented an application for an innovative alternative fishery as part of the EMSP. Seven students from Deer Isle-Stonington High School attended.

Students are collaborating with researchers from Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington and the Department of Marine Resources to engineer a trap-based winter flounder fishery. Since there is not currently a fishery in Maine for winter flounder, students in the program applied for a special license from the DMR that will allow students to trap winter flounder.

“It’s great for students to present,” said DISHS principal Todd West. “They were very nervous, but had prepared really well.”

The council unanimously voted to approve the students’ application for a special license. Before voting, council members asked questions of the presenting students and expressed their support for the program.

“The council members had good questions,” said West.

Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources, said the skippers program “is a testament to schools that are recognizing the value of fishing to Maine’s communities and economy.”

Council member Christopher Weiner, a fisherman from Portland, said “this [program] is the coolest thing. Usually I am the youngest person in the room at these meetings.”

West said the meeting also included a discussion of entry and exit ratios in Zones A and B, where several of the skippers program students are from.

“It really met the goal of having studetns involved in and participating in a regulatory meeting,” said West of the event. “Now they know that it’s not that hard to go and be a part of that.”

As part of the Winter Flounder Project, students will:

• study the life history of winter flounder, including prey choice, behavior, and habitat preferences;

• the current rules that impact the development of a new fishery;

• engineer a flounder trap to maximize the amount of legal flounder caught and minimize by-catch;

• collect data that will address the question of whether it is possible to start an economically and environmentally sustainable trap fishery in Downeast Maine;

• present their findings to Keliher in May.

By investigating the viability of an alternative fishery, students will have an opportunity to learn and practice skills such as active citizenship, public speaking, interpreting and using data, and applied science and engineering that will prepare them for modern fishing careers as well as post-secondary education. The project will have further application beyond high school education, however, as students will conduct “real-world” research that fishermen and regulators can use as they seek to sustain the fishing economies which are so important to Downeast communities.

About the Eastern Maine

Skippers Program

In 2012, Deer Isle-Stonington High School and Penobscot East Resource Center collaborated to create the Eastern Maine Skippers Program. EMSP is a regional program which aims to provide aspiring commercial fishermen in schools from North Haven to Eastport the skills needed to be successful fishermen in a time of rapid environmental and regulatory change.

A cohort of more than 40 students from Vinalhaven, North Haven, Deer Isle-Stonington, Ellsworth, MDI and Narraguagus High Schools as well as George Stevens Academy remain in their schools and collaborate in the program via technology-based “anytime, anywhere” learning. Students also meet in person three or four times a year to participate in events such as meetings with the Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Fishermen’s Forum.

For more information about the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, visit sites.google.com/a/dishs.org/msp/eastern-maine-skippers-program. For more information on Penobscot East Resource Center, visit [penobscoteast.org}(http://www.penobscoteast.org).