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Honoring the life and work of Dr. Jim Acheson

Dr. Jim Acheson, retired University of Maine professor and author of the The Lobster Gangs of Maine, passed away in late June. The Lobster Gangs of Maine is an illuminating study of the modern lobster fishery made intimate by featuring some of Maine’s local lobster families. His work gave the world insight into the fishery and way of life.

Jim wrote, “My own work has underlined the fact that the Maine lobster industry is one of the most successful co-management systems in the world. I think it is important to monitor the problems and progress of this system. If it succeeds, it is important to know what problems it encountered and how they were overcome. If it fails, it is important to know why if others are to avoid a similar fate.”

Photo courtesy of the Portland Press Herald.

He passed away unexpectedly at Maine Medical Center after facing Parkinson’s disease for several years with strength and resilience. His wife of 50 years, Ann, and several other family members were by his side. Jim was born May 2, 1938 in Dover, NH. His family moved to Maine when he was three months old, eventually settling in Augusta where Jim and his four brothers grew up. His father was in the hotel business and came to own eight hotels in Maine and New Hampshire, including the Augusta House. Jim lived and worked in several of these hotels during the first 22 years of his life, instilling in him a strong work ethic.

He received his Bachelor’s degree from Colby College in 1962, majoring in biology and sociology, and his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Rochester in 1970. During this time, he also served in the Coast Guard Reserve (1960-1965).

Jim was a faculty member at the University of Maine from 1968-2013, with a joint appointment in Anthropology and the School of Marine Sciences. He served as chair of the Anthropology Department and as coordinator of the Marine Policy program. He also had visiting appointments at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington, D.C. and at several other academic institutions.

He is best known for his work with the Maine lobster industry and its system of self-governance. His lobster industry research had important practical as well as theoretical impacts. In the early 1990s, Jim was integral in the establishment of a co-management system in Maine between the government and the fishing industry that has become a national and international model.

Jim was an eminent, internationally-recognized scholar who authored over 90 articles in professional journals, along with five books, including The Lobster Gangs of Maine (1988) and Capturing the Commons: Devising Institutions to Manage the Maine Lobster Industry (2004).

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