ROCKPORT — At a quick glance, a roomful of Maine lobstermen might be mistaken for a gathering of the AARP or seminar on the approaching benefits of Social Security. A second look will disclose a good scattering of young men and women who have decided to make lobster fishing their lives, but graybeards are definitely in the majority.
A visit with members of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, though, suggests that the future of Maine’s fishing industry is secure in good and youthful hands.
Founded in 2012, the program is a collaborative venture involving students from eight Eastern Maine high schools who hope to become fishermen or may already be fishing. Its goal is to help aspiring young fishermen to acquire the skills they need to be successful in an industry characterized by rapid change because of environmental and regulatory factors.
This year, students from Vinalhaven, North Haven, Deer Isle-Stonington, Ellsworth, Mount Desert Island, Jonesport-Beals and Narraguagus high schools and George Stevens Academy have been working on a project that they hope will elicit feedback on a variety of ideas they have developed for making an impact on the lobster industry that they will one day be part of.
On Friday afternoon, students from each of the schools in the program did a poster presentation at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum displaying the questions they have raised and answers they propose. Their enthusiasm was palpable and contagious.
Among the posters was one prepared by Ellsworth High School students Jack McKechnie, Hayden Sattler and Ben Mazgai, who were trying to find a way for fishermen to ship their lobsters directly to European consumers through a cooperative that would eliminate the middleman.
The Eastern Maine Skippers program grew, initially, from a collaboration between the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington and educators at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. According to the PERC website, graduates of the program “will be flexible and adaptive fishermen who can advocate for the resource, the industry and their communities.”