Last Chance. Outnumbered. Endangered Species. These are the names of some of the lobster boats represented at this year’s Fishermen’s Forum in Rockland. They reflect the sense of uncertainty that surrounds the commercial fishing world.
The men and women who fish those boats were out in force to discuss catch, markets, bait, price, the health of the stock and fisheries management. The number of hours on the water represented by the fishermen assembled would be mind-boggling, if it could be calculated.
A unique gathering, the forum’s star attractions are the fishermen themselves. Weathered faces, barrel chests and brawny forearms filled the halls. On a desperately cold day, many fishermen were in T-shirts. And for those still standing after a grueling day of meetings, there was dinner and then storytelling that continued into the night.
The forum is not just for lobstermen. There are representatives from just about every Maine fishery: scallops, clams, worms, groundfish, elvers, halibut, seaweed. Seminars held over three days explored the issues facing each of those fisheries.
These men and women are the deans of fishing, willing to set aside this time to meet, think and talk about how to protect the species they fish and to provide essential input based on their experience on the water. It is important to their future that some of the younger harvesters are showing up, too.
It is no small thing for the fishermen to assemble and consider the state of their respective fisheries and their futures. Scores of them contribute funds, serve as panelists or donate items to the scholarship raffle. They are crucial participants in Augusta and on industry councils as the rules and regulations that provide for sustainable harvests are worked out.
In the exhibit rooms, one can find booths for fishing-related services, be they legal, financial, boat or health insurance, as well as all sorts of fishing gear: traps, warp, knives, clamps, foul-weather gear, boots, buoys, propellers and engines. Big engines.
There were events built around safety and survival training. There was a health screening, including blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol, skin cancer screening and tetanus boosters.
The staff of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources was there, from Commissioner Pat Keliher to Marine Patrol officers to DMR scientists. “Thankless” is a word often used to describe the role of fisheries managers, but it is clear that Keliher, approachable and a good listener, has established a positive working relationship with the men and women who fish Maine waters.
And politicians? Yeah, there were politicians. Coastal legislators attended, especially those who serve on the legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. Gov. Paul LePage was there, as were U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.
To the folks who sent out a blast email inquiring “Where’s Susan?”, the forum is one answer. “Nowhere to be found?” Au contraire. When members of Congress are “home,” do not picture them savoring morning coffee wearing fuzzy slippers.
Collins spent long days meeting with constituents last week, including one I was fortunate enough to attend. Though some “demanded” that the senator hold “town hall meetings,” the many meetings she did hold enabled deep discussions of constituent concerns and the opportunity to fully understand the senator’s position on the subjects at hand. Beyond those, she was available at a number of public events, including the forum.
As for King, in addition to the Fishermen’s Forum in Rockland, he was in Bangor and Skowhegan on the weekend, then it was back to Portland to hold a public “listening session” on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, a nomination on which he will have to vote soon.
It is altogether a restless, anxious and exciting time in our country. American citizens are engaged in the political process as they rarely have been before. People who have never been politically active are looking for ways to get involved. They’re making a lot of noise.
Much of this is happening at the local level. National and international affairs seem overwhelming. But working at the local level seems do-able, and there is a sense that good citizenship and hard work locally will “trickle up.”
Amid the noise, there remains an essential ingredient in our democracy, the quiet citizen. We lost one of those this month, in the passing of Dick Schloss of Bar Harbor. Dick was a fine example of how community works, when it works. He had a keen intelligence but was a humble and unassuming man with a ready smile.
Dick never would have been found yelling at his congressman at a town hall meeting. He would be the one setting up the chairs. He was not the sort to “demand” or “insist.” He would just do. He was willing to take on any task, large or small, to advance a cause he supported, and there were many of those.
A family member was astonished to discover the range of issues in which he was involved, each represented by a carefully curated collection of papers found on his desk. He will be missed. We can honor him by emulating his spirit of quiet helpfulness.