Eleventh-grade students from Mount Desert Island High School in the Eastern Maine Skippers Program are conducting research into the changes in lobstering in Bar Harbor as seen by lobstermen who have more than 20 years of experience. IMAGE COURTESY OF NATALIE SPRINGUEL

Skippers student project aims to track changes in lobster fishery

BAR HARBOR — Eleventh-grade students from Mount Desert Island High School involved in the Eastern Maine Skippers Program are putting the finishing touches on a project compiling an oral history of Bar Harbor lobstermen and the effects of cruise ships on the fishery here.

The students interviewed a half dozen lobstermen who have been fishing for more than two decades. The students asked them to draw their fishing areas onto maps. They discussed lost gear and the increasing costs of being a fisherman.

“We all decided to give fishermen a voice in Bar Harbor,” Student Mikayla Gray, 18, said. “We were trying to get a feel for how much they lost from cruise ships and how much the industry has changed in 20 years.”

Val Peacock, who works for Rural Aspirations, a Maine-based education nonprofit that oversees the Skippers Program, has worked regularly with the students. She has an interest and knowledge of fishing in Bar Harbor, having fished herself and also having served as the assistant harbormaster of Bar Harbor for a short time.

The students wanted to work on an issue in town that affected local fishermen. Discussion of cruise ships, a contentious issue here, is often dominated by local business owners and by residents concerned about congestion. But cruise visitation also has changed the fishing industry here, they said.

Peacock said the fishermen she talked to did not feel they were being represented well enough in decision-making processes.

“[The fishermen] really felt disenfranchised,” Peacock said. “I kind of mentioned that, and [the students] latched on to that.”

“It’s more than just a job,” she added. “The fishermen know that it’s very important to talk about it.”

Peacock said the fishermen have a lot of common themes in their answers to the questions, but some differences of opinion arise when they ask if practices could change in Bar Harbor.

“It’s been very interesting to me,” she said. “Some fishermen think working out of Bar Harbor is just fine the way it is, and some think it’s crazy.”

Peacock said the students also are considering delivering the information compiled from the project to the Town Council. Their interviews will be catalogued by the Bar Harbor Historical Society.

A difficulty fishermen face here, the students found, was the abundance of traps in lobster management Zone B. Fishermen told the students the fishing in Zone B has been good, so they want to put as much gear as possible in B.

Fishermen who operate in Zones A and C only have to put 51 percent of their traps in those zones, allowing just under half of their gear to be used in Zone B.

“It gets way too overcrowded in Zone B,” said student Trevor Klopfstein, 17.

Things change quickly in fisheries, Peacock said, and it’s important to note the changes. Many fishermen are fishing farther offshore than they used to. Other challenges include unpredictable prices for lobster and increasing costs of bait and other gear.

The Skippers Program aims to prepare students to contribute to Maine’s fishing communities. This year, the school has two groups participating, one for freshmen and sophomores, and another for juniors.

Students here regularly work with Peacock, lead Island Pathways teacher Jen Crandall and Natalie Springuel, Maine Sea Grant marine extension associate at College of the Atlantic. The group meets every school day.

At MDI, it’s part of the Island Pathways program, an alternative learning program focused on a more hands-on approach to learning. Students often go on field trips to learn skills that can benefit the community, Klopfstein said.

“It’s for kids who learn a little bit differently,” he said. “We like to learn visually and hands-on rather than reading books and studying all day.”

The freshman and sophomore group is working on a project having to do with alternative bait. A local fisherman has pledged to test the suggested baits on his boat.

The final presentations will be delivered at The Grand in Ellsworth on Thursday, May 24, at 5 p.m. In addition to the two MDI groups, Skippers groups from Ellsworth, George Stevens Academy, Deer Isle-Stonington, Vinalhaven, North Haven, Jonesport and Narraguagus will present their work.

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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