STONINGTON — Robin Alden, one-time commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources under Gov. John McKernan and longtime editor and publisher of the regional trade publication Commercial Fisheries News, will step down as executive director of the Penobscot East Resource Center at the end of this year.
The organization announced a search for her successor last week.
Alden founded Penobscot East 13 years ago together with her husband, MacArthur Fellow Ted Ames, former Maine Seacoast Mission pastor and fisheries advocate Ted Hoskins, and Kristen and Paul Lewis.
The aim was to expand the reach of the local Stonington Fisheries Alliance and other Down East community fishing groups, according to PERC’s website, “beyond the horizon of their own harbors.”
Started with only a few employees and a thin-as-a-shoestring budget in 2003, Penobscot East now has a dozen employees, including fisheries scientists and marine policy experts. Under Alden’s stewardship, its operating budget has grown to $1.8 million.
Alden’s decision to retire from Penobscot East is part of what the organization said is “a carefully planned five-year process” that will allow Penobscot East to continue its work.
Following her departure, Alden plans to continue her work on sustaining fisheries and fishing communities, to which she has devoted her professional career.
Penobscot East operates a wide variety of fisheries-directed educational, scientific and environmental research and advocacy programs.
The organization has been a vocal advocate of the principles of “bottom-up” fisheries management that recognizes the extensive knowledge fishermen have about the ecosystem in which they work and emphasizes the need for fishermen, scientists and fisheries regulators “to learn how to learn and act together.”
Among many programs, PERC was instrumental in establishing a federal fisheries permit banking program designed to ensure that eastern Maine fishermen continue to have the right to catch groundfish such as cod as depleted stocks recover in the Gulf of Maine.
PERC also serves as the coordinator for the eight-school consortium that forms the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, which helps high school students acquire the academic and practical skills students need to succeed as commercial fishermen in an increasingly complex world.
The organization has been recognized as a leader in the field of Maine fisheries policy and works both on its own and as a partner with other organizations dedicated to related programs or policy objectives.
Whoever succeeds Alden as executive director will have some big shoes to fill. Last week, she was named a Hero of the Seas as the winner of one of the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards. She was recognized for her career working at the grassroots, engaging fishermen’s knowledge and participation to build sustainable, healthy coastal fisheries and fishing communities.
“It is just unbelievable to have international recognition for Penobscot East’s basic approach – that the knowledge fishermen have about the ecology they work in every day is important to healthy fisheries and our communities,” Alden said in a statement.
“Fisheries are at a turning point because climate change is forcing fishery regulators to face the fact that the ocean changes all the time,” she continued. “Constant change makes real time, on-the-ground observation so much more important than the old approach of primarily depending upon abundance predictions.”
The new executive director also will take over a new, or at least renamed, organization. In March, Penobscot East will change its name to the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. That name “will better represent the organization’s stature, thought leadership and breadth of impact,” according to its 10-page “Executive Director Search Document.”
The Hero of the Seas Award is given to “a marine grassroots activist who has made a major and long-term commitment to improving the quality of our seas and the communities that depend on them.”
The international Peter Benchley Ocean Awards acknowledge outstanding achievements leading to the protection of the ocean, coasts and the communities that depend on them. They are named in honor of Peter Benchley, author of “Jaws,” who spent more than 40 years educating the public and expanding awareness of the importance of protecting sharks and ocean ecosystems.
In addition to her work as a journalist, DMR commissioner and executive director of Penobscot East, Alden was one of the founders of the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, which turns 42 this year.