STONINGTON — Paul Anderson has been a fixture of the coastal fisheries community for 40 years. His experience in all sectors of the industry – government, academia and nonprofit – has provided him with a holistic picture of the successes and challenges that coastal communities face within an ever-changing ecosystem.
With the Jan. 26 announcement of his retirement as executive director of Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries (MCCF), Anderson reflected on his career and what the future holds for the Stonington-based organization and coastal communities supported by fisheries.
A trained microbiologist with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine, Anderson’s career includes time at the state Department of Marine Resources, where he worked for about a decade.
He returned to his UMaine roots as the director of the Maine Sea Grant College Program for 16 years, where he ran multimillion-dollar research projects in aquaculture and marine science.
Anderson became aware of MCCF from his friend and colleague, Robin Alden, who co-founded the organization.
“When she announced her retirement [as executive director of MCCF], I thought, ‘That would be interesting,’” Anderson said. “So, that’s what I did.”
For the last five years, Anderson has overseen the organization, whose vision includes making “community resilience possible by bringing together fishermen and harvesters, scientists, policy makers, business and community leaders and citizens to create and implement sustainable solutions for communities that depend on wild fisheries, aquaculture and the seafood economy.”
Spearheading that mission and vision has been a chance for Anderson to work on issues from within.
“I was very interested in MCCF because of being imbedded more closely with the community,” he said.
MCCF works at the local level to confront some big stressors that coastal communities are handed, where most changes to communities are the result of a warming and changing climate.
“We’re seeing that [climate change] affect the ecology of the fish and the ecosystem we’re trying to manage,” Anderson said. Simultaneously, he added, the communities that depend on fisheries are feeling the strain from rising temperatures.
Rising sea levels are posing pragmatic challenges, like how to maintain port infrastructure.
“Communities are having to pay attention to those stresses and adjust,” he said.
While some fisheries are struggling, others, like the lobster industry, are doing OK in terms of supply, but have other issues to face, like zoning closures enforced to protect endangered right whales and potential development of offshore wind power.
It’s an intricate balance; finding ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change while not being affected too greatly by climate change solutions. It’s these types of conversations that members of fisheries communities need to be a part of so that fair and equitable adjustments are made, Anderson added.
“We at the center really believe in local knowledge,” Anderson explained. “So that’s where our programs lie.” Programs are a blend of science, management and education.
Anderson has spent the last five years focusing on MCCF’s programs and how to make them most impactful.
He worked on recreating the organization’s strategic plan, which highlights the center’s work around “ecosystem-based management,” something that was started by Alden.
“I was able to really align our work and refocus our staff to make sure we have a team approach and make sure we can point to the impact of our work and the context of the ecosystem that we all live in,” Anderson said.
His work also included downsizing the organization’s annual operating budget to $1.4 million.
MCCF gets most of its revenue from private philanthropy and a solid donor base, Anderson explained. A small amount of funding comes from the government.
As the organization carries on under new leadership, it will remain a space that bridges science, the government and people, areas where communication can get lost, Anderson said.
“Our organization works in that space,” he said, calling MCCF “boundary-spanning.”
“We can be these translators and connectors,” he said. “That’s always been a really important function.”
“I know the center is getting better and better at that every day,” he added.
The “wicked problems” facing coastal communities and people who depend on fisheries are ones that never really go away, Anderson said. But they can be managed and MCCF is a “vital role” in sustaining an ecosystem that generations have relied on.
It’s work, Anderson reflected, that while difficult, is where trust can be established among a host of stakeholders and people can show respect to each other.
Anderson has not set a firm date for his retirement, but he plans to be done sometime this year. He said he is looking forward to helping find a new director.
“On behalf of the MCCF Board of Directors, I would like to congratulate Paul on his retirement and thank him for his outstanding leadership these past five years,” said Walter Kumiega, chairman of the board. “The national search for a new executive director is an exciting opportunity for MCCF to look at our future and the future of the communities and people we serve. We will be hiring a person passionate about our mission and committed to fishing forever.”
While Anderson plans to enjoy his many hobbies during his retirement, he will also remain connected to the organization.
“I care deeply about these issues,” he said.
For more information about MCCF, visit its website at www.coastalfisheries.org, check out its Discovery Wharf this spring and watch videos of Ask Leroy!, where Captain Leroy Weed of Stonington uses his Downeast humor to answer questions about the fishing industry.