Earlier this month fishermen, scientists, managers and policymakers gathered in Rockland, Maine, for the Fishermen’s Forum. The three-day event brings stakeholders together every year to discuss issues that affect Maine’s fisheries and the communities that depend on them.
“Healthy fisheries require functioning ecosystems and local stewardship,“ noted Anne Hayden, who coordinates the Downeast Fisheries Partnership. “The Fishermen’s Forum allows for active discussion regarding strategies for achieving sustainable harvests in the face of increasing demand for seafood and for adapting to the reality of climate impacts already being felt up and down the coast.”
This year, climate change was a prevailing theme. Island Institute, Environmental Defense Fund, Nature Conservancy and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association kicked-off the event with a panel discussion: “Questioning Our Changing Oceans.”
About 350 people attended the three-hour-long session which allowed fishermen from across the country to share the changes they were experiencing in their local waters, and for scientists to highlight their latest climate research. For many, the biggest takeaway of the discussion was that fisheries are changing, but there are ways the industry can change with it if fishermen and scientists work together.
Bill Karp, NEFSC, to fishermen: Due to changing climate we have “challenges facing us that we can only solve together” #MaineFF2016
— Downeast Fisheries (@DEFisheries) March 4, 2016
Aquaculture is one way forward. Last year, Chris Warner, a shellfish harvester from Bath, Maine, spoke at the Fishermen’s Forum about the soft-shell clam farm he was working on with Manomet. Warmer waters have increased the invasive green crab populations to a point where wild clams are scarce. Soft-shell clam farming gives shellfish harvesters a sustainable way to protect their harvest against this new climate-related threat.
This year, Chris came back to tell his story again, this time as the only full-time shellfish harvester on a panel titled, “Aquaculture Opportunities for Fishermen.”
“Last year I felt like I was just introducing this concept of a soft-shell clam farm, but the tone at this year’s forum was totally different,” explained Warner. “Aquaculture was a major theme throughout the event.”
Chris Warner presenting at last year’s Fishermen’s Forum. Picture from Frenchman Bay Partners.
Warner was joined by some other aquaculture pioneers, including Dana Morse from Maine Sea Grant and Dick Clime from the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center. The panel introduced important aquaculture topics, the potentials for different species, and resources to help new growers get up and running.
A familiar question closed the discussion: “What will aquaculture look like in Maine in the next five years?”
Dick Clime answered by explaining, today aquaculture produces $82-$100 million annually for the State, but the total acreage fits inside of Portland’s Jetport. In the next five years, the acreage of farms should quadruple and is forecasted to bring in $400 million annually.
Maine’s booming aquaculture industry is just one example of scientists and fishermen coming together to make a sustainable future a reality.