ROCKPORT — At midday Saturday, the Maine Fishermen’s Forum was going full-tilt boogie and Chiloa Young, the event’s longtime coordinator, looked frazzled but satisfied.
Over its 41-year history, the forum has had plenty of years when attendance was strong — bringing fishermen and their families from all over the state to the Samoset Hotel for three days of fisheries-related seminars, gear shopping and socializing. There have also been plenty of years when the weather, the economy or whatever kept the crowds small and the atmosphere subdued.
Not this year.
On Thursday, the Department of Marine Resources announced that Maine fisheries landings topped $600 million in 2015 and that the value of the state’s lobster landings alone topped a half-billion dollars. Those good tidings no doubt contributed to the sense of optimism and high energy in the halls, seminar rooms and trade show booths.
On Saturday afternoon, as members of the forum’s executive board popped in and out of her office and former DMR Commissioner George Lapointe huddled in a corner with a group researching the impact of some federal fisheries regulations who were interviewing a fisherman, Young gave an update on this year’s event.
Two featured events at the forum are the Friday night fresh fish dinner followed by an auction to raise funds for college scholarships and Saturday night’s banquet and dinner dance. Attendance in recent years has been uncertain.
This year, Young said, both events were packed.
“We sold out last night, with a waiting list and it’s the same tonight,” Young said. “It’s the first year in a decade that we’re totally sold out.”
It wasn’t only the banquets that had waiting lists, Young said. For the first time in 10 years, the Samoset sold out all of its Fishermen’s Forum room bookings.
The heavy attendance at Friday’s auction, and the general feeling of well-being in the industry was good news for the 24 students from Maine fishing families who applied for forum scholarships to further their education. Undergraduates attending a two- or four-year college and who are in at least their second year are eligible for a $1,000 scholarship.
Over the decades, the forum has given out more than $324,000 in scholarships. This year, Young said, the forum had raised nearly $19,500 at the auction, some $2,300 at a silent auction and received cash contributions of more than $12,000, including gifts of $1,000 each from Machias Savings Bank, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust and The First National Bank. In all, contributions were “close” to $35,000.
The forum trade show was a hit, too. This year’s event — with more than 130 exhibitors including boatbuilders, engine manufacturers, gear suppliers, science organizations and state and federal regulatory agencies — was the largest in the history of the forum. Fishermen were in a spending mood, too.
A salesman for the Friendship Trap Co. said on Saturday morning that they were so busy that traps ordered at the forum wouldn’t be ready until October, with November the likely delivery date for traps ordered that afternoon.
On Saturday morning, Lamoine boatbuilder Stewart Workman said he had already taken a firm order for a new boat from his SW Boatworks. And Greg Sanborn, service manager at Billings Diesel & Marine in Stonington, said the yard was going to be “very busy” this spring repowering lobster boats with new diesel engines.
“It’s been a good show,” Sanborn said.
A full program of seminars — and a couple of television stars — were also big draws.
On Thursday, Keith Colburn, captain of the Alaskan crab fishing boat Wizard from the Discovery Channel “Deadliest Catch,” took part in a seminar, “Questioning our Changing Oceans.” With him on the panel were Buddy Guindon, star of the television show “Big Fish – Texas,” California fisherman John Mellor and Linda Williams, a participant in the Western Australian Rock Lobster Fishery.
Friday saw meetings featuring a review of the current state of lobster science, a five-year review of sector management in the groundfish industry, updates on the herring fishery and a meeting with John Bullard, Northeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries and William Karp, science and research director for NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center.
Saturday was filled with meetings related to the elver, alewife and scallop fisheries, the latest on ocean acidification and this summer’s lobster boat racing — less raucous than some in the past.
Virtually all of the meetings were packed.
“It has been a remarkable, remarkable year for us,” Young said.