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Guest Column: Two Perspectives on Challenges in 2024

The Working Waterfront, a publication of the Island Institute, asked several leaders involved in the marine sector for their thoughts on challenges facing coastal communities in 2024. We reprint two commentaries here. First published January 23, 2024.

By Jeff Putnam

As we enter 2024, the industry must be proactive in monitoring the health of the resource. The Department of Marine Resources conducts trawl surveys, a ventless trap program, settlement tracking, and sends staff out on harvester boats to count and measure every lobster trapped. There has been a decline across the spectrum in recent years that has triggered a measure increase effective January 1, 2025.

Harvesters statewide have participated in these surveys, listened to the results, and provided feedback from their own perspectives. The feedback that many have provided, and what the most recent surveys are capturing, is that there are positive signs in the juvenile lobster stock.

Harvesters and DMR scientists agree that expanding the surveys into a broader habitat and depth range is important to capture the changes that we have seen, such as increased sub-legal lobsters offshore.

Expanding the ventless trap program requires the collaboration of harvesters willing to tend those traps and regulators willing to change the process from random to targeted locations.

The sea sampling program needs more harvesters that are working the offshore waters to participate for the purpose of capturing accurate resource shifts into deeper water. If more data can be gathered from this program, then DMR can cross-check what we are seeing in our traps with the trawl survey, which has its flaws, and provide more information for the indexes that are used to regulate the harvest.

Jeff Putnam is a member of Zone F Lobster Council and chair of the Lobster Advisory Council.

By Sebastian Belle

More and more coastal community members have no family or historical connection to making a living from the ocean. The ways many new residents view and value the ocean are often quite different from folks whose livelihood depends on the commercial use of the oceans.

As these demographic shifts occur, Maine’s working waterfront communities also find themselves facing a rapidly changing marine ecosystem driven by climate change. Those environmental changes directly affect the resources that are the basis for our working waterfront economy. Traditional working waterfront families and communities are struggling to adapt and find ways to continue their maritime heritage. Navigating a course through these challenges will require new tools and changes in how we use the ocean to provide a viable future for the next generation of working waterfront families.

Aquaculture is one tool that will help coastal communities become more resilient and provide opportunities for the next generation to continue Maine’s maritime heritage. Aquaculture permits go through a rigorous public process that ensures they will not damage the environment and create any conflicts with other marine resource users. Put another way, they need “social license” to operate. That’s a good thing and the state’s aquatic farmers support that requirement. Social license requires that accurate information is available to the public and that resource management agencies base their decisions on good data.

As Maine’s coastal communities consider how to preserve their working waterfront traditions, accurate and objective information about aquaculture will be vital. Maine is lucky that we have some of the most qualified aquaculture and marine ecosystems researchers in the world. Their objective engagement will be critical to the sustainable use of aquaculture as a tool to grow local, healthy food and maintain our working waterfront traditions.

Sebastian Belle is the executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association


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