By Stephen Rappaport and Liz Graves
ROCKPORT — Students from Mount Desert Island High School and the seven other Hancock and Washington county high schools in the Eastern Maine Skippers Program (EMSP) gathered at the recent Maine Fishermen’s Forum to display the vibrant edge of the state’s rapidly graying fishing industry.
While many of the forum’s panel discussions and workshops were laden with scientific expertise and practical experience on and around the water, the Eastern Maine skippers posited the idea that members of local communities can work together to restore their local fisheries. Dozens of students displayed posters outlining their innovative approaches to the problem and the resolute commitment of the young people from those communities to get something done.
MDI has two groups of skippers this year, working through the school’s Island Pathways program. A group of ninth- and 10th-graders, led by Brooke Gariepy and Ruth Poland, is working on projects on alternative lobster bait options to lower bait prices and about how to bring back a sustainable urchin fishery.
A group of juniors is working with Jen Crandall, Christiane Cullens and Hannah Podurgiel, interviewing fishermen for an oral history project.
Students from Narraguagus High School in Harrington outlined local approaches to dealing with a problem that occupied a lot of attention at the forum: how to prevent, or at least reduce, interactions between endangered right whales and fishing gear.
A group of girls from Jonesport-Beals High School introduced the idea of bringing a retail fish market to Jonesport, a major fishing harbor that sends virtually everything that crosses the dock out of town as a wholesale product.
A crew from George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill recounted its exploration of how the changes in the region’s ecology are affecting the region’s alewife fishery, once a significant source of bait for the lobster industry and an important source of food and income to coastal residents.
Seven Jonesport-Beals students, several of whom fish when they’re not in school, focused on ways to improve the availability of bait, a concern shared by a contingent from Ellsworth High School.
The various projects were prepared as part of the program’s focus on having students identify issues and opportunities in fisheries management or restoration, find a “solution pathway” to the problem they have identified and then work to implement that solution.
EMSP is a collaborative effort of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries based in Stonington and the Hancock County-based Rural Aspirations Project. According to its website, the program’s focus is on providing students with the core knowledge and skills needed to participate in co-managed fisheries, working with scientists and regulators to sustain the fisheries they depend upon as well as to run successful and adaptable businesses.
The final presentation of all the EMSP projects is on Saturday, May 24, at The Grand in Ellsworth.