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25 Years and a Lifetime of Memories

You see her everywhere and anywhere during the three days of the Maine Fishermen’s Forum: Chilloa Young, a fast-moving figure darting through the halls of the Samoset Resort, making sure that the many parts of the Forum come together smoothly. But, after 25 years of coordinating the popular event, Young will be stepping down from her position this year.

Her love of the Fishermen’s Forum is evident in every sentence Young speaks. She first served on the Forum’s board of directors for more than two years before taking over as Forum coordinator in 1998 from Belinda Doliber, who had held the position for ten years. With her husband, Mike, she has been at full-speed-ahead ever since.

“I remember I got the job, showed up on Friday morning with Mike, who came to help me set up. By the end of the day he had shin splints, he walked so much!” Young remembers.

Chilloa Young, left, with Gov. Janet Mills at the 2019 Forum (M. Young photo)

The Forum, which began in 1976 and was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1984, has grown in scope over the decades. “We have a minimum of 3,000 people now during the three-day period,” Young said. “Some years it’s 5,000. It’s going to be a big year this year. All the rooms in the Samoset sold out in less than 12 days.”

Having served on the Forum board, Young understood just how complicated an event the Forum was. Today she values even more the effort board members put in each year to make the increasingly sophisticated educational event work. “Now there’s a real mix of people from different organizations, different walks of life on the board. These guys all have full time jobs and they work hard to pull this off each year. It’s very impressive!” she said.

Young helps each board member as he or she organizes seminars for the Forum, assembling the all-important seminar sheets which detail the topic, the moderator, speakers and speaker information. Then she acts as the liaison between the Forum and the Samoset Resort, which has been the site of the Forum for decades. “We have to give the Samoset a detailed list of everything — the speakers, audio-visual needs for each, meals, equipment, everything. There’s a lot of typing in my job,” Young laughed.

In addition, Young sells every one of the 133 spaces in the popular Trade Show. Once every space is sold, she double and triple checks all the details to make sure that vendors have what they need.

Sometimes all does not go smoothly. “One year a guy showed up with a boat engine. He had registered for the Trade Show but hadn’t paid. They brought it in on the forklift and he said, ‘Where’s my booth?’ Well, I had to tell him he didn’t have a booth,” she said. But in the end, knowing that this was a product important to fishermen, “we made him a space,” Young recalled.

In Young’s view, the Forum is all about the fishermen and their families. Many come to the Trade Show thinking about buying a boat, upgrading an engine, or purchasing new electronic equipment and perhaps most of all, to talk to people from the companies that sell what they need.

Young's husband Mike is known to many, along with the late Mark Wells, as one of the "Seafood Guys" (Forum photo)

Over time, the Forum has shifted emphasis in response to changes in the larger fishing world. Seminars are fewer in number to reduce the risk of overlapping important topics. The all-day workshop held on Thursday allows a focus on one fishery or subject without distractions. The Trade Show is larger and encompasses both commercial fishing and aquaculture. Yet the Forum continues to be an annual ritual for many, where families come for a brief vacation and to catch up friends, where scientists, politicians, state and federal officials and fishermen get to rub shoulders and talk.

“Fishermen really appreciate the opportunity to meet politicians and scientists face-to-face. The Forum offers them neutral territory,” Young said. “It’s a good place to make yourself heard.”

The Forum is known for its convivial atmosphere plus a certain amount of partying. Young is discrete about raucous elements from the past but she does recall one incident with a chuckle. “I remember one fisherman. He’d had a good time at the auction and bought a box of sardines. He was headed back to his room and on the way he decided to give away the sardines. He put them on shelves, handed them to people. He finally put one can in the DMR sea life exhibit!”

One element of the Forum close to Young’s heart is the annual scholarship awards for children of parents in the fishing industry. Throughout the year the Forum board solicits financial support for the scholarships, then holds a silent and live auction during the Forum. The live auction is a high-spirited evening when common objects may suddenly rise to unheard-of values, all in support of the scholarship fund. Typically approximately 20 students will receive scholarship awards each year.

Over the years hundreds of children have been introduced to DMR's touch tank at the Forum (M. Young photo)

In recent years a fisherman and his wife have contributed thousands of dollars to a new scholarship raffle. “I am in awe of how wonderful he and his wife are,” said Young. “He looked around at different organizations to give money to and thought the Forum scholarship fund was the best. Last year he gave $15,000 for three $5,000 scholarships. This year he’s giving $16,000 for two $8,000 scholarships,” Young explained.

Young knows the names, the stories, the high and lows of so many fishermen and their families, stories that she will keep as treasures in the future. One stands out in particular. The late Arnie Gamage, Maine Lobstermen’s Association board member and well-known fisherman from South Bristol, attended the last in-person Forum in March 2020. Young remembers the moment clearly. “Arnie checked in at the Samoset front desk and then turned around toward us at the registration table. He swung his arms out and said ‘Now I’m happy. I’m at the Forum!’” It was a bittersweet memory; sadly, Gamage suffered a heart attack and passed away later that day.

The Forum’s camaraderie will stay with Young long after she leaves her position. She recalls many examples of people gathering together at the Forum by the Samoset’s fireplace early in the day just to catch up on the previous year’s news and watching each other’s children grow up over the years. The Forum is a special occasion for so many and Chilloa Young has been a huge part of what makes the event so special.

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