Reflections from the Maine Fishermen’s Forum

Posted 2023-03-09

The Maine Fishermen’s Forum is a unique event that brings together leaders and innovators working in our state’s blue economy. From fishermen and aquaculturists to scientists, management agencies, gear suppliers, and others, the forum is an opportunity for stakeholders in this sector to convene, collaborate, and share ideas. We were excited to attend this past week and connect with friends and partners from across the coast. Read on for reflections and takeaways on the 2023 forum from Island Institute staff.

Susie Arnold, Ph.D. 
Senior Ocean Scientist

“This year, I heard an overwhelming call from industry members for more applied research to inform management, from the intertidal zone to far offshore in the Gulf of Maine. For use in managing intertidal shellfish, the lobster fishery’s interactions with endangered right whales, and siting offshore wind farms, the call for data has never been louder. There is an urgent need for more focus on science and a renewed appetite for collaboration to improve our collective understanding and share information about what is happening in the Gulf of Maine.”



Molly Miller, Ph.D.  
Community Development Officer 

“The Fishermen’s Forum is an event that I look forward to every year. It is the one occasion that brings together men and women in our fisheries, State marine resource management staff, researchers, students, and organizations that work in the blue economy. The knowledge exchange and connection across diverse groups at this event is unlike any other I know. A wild harvester or grower has the opportunity to learn about the health of the resource in other parts of the state as well as exchange ideas about common problems and potential solutions found by others. I, myself, learn an immense amount about our fisheries and the management challenges we face as we look to the future and growing threats of climate change. Learning from the fishing and aquaculture industries about the health of our marine ecosystems based on what they see every day is one of my favorite interactions. It is immensely helpful for the state to adapt management plans and for researchers and community development organizations such as our own to create programs that respond to community needs in real-time and help our communities to remain resilient in the face of environmental, social, and economic change.”


Alex Zipparo 
Community Development Officer

“I attended “Understanding Injuries, Pain and Substance Use among Shellfish Harvesters in Downeast Maine.” This session provided an overview of the work Tora Johnson Ph.D. of the Downeast Health Research Collaborative at UMaine Machias is doing with Gray Jones from the University of Maine and Joseph Spiller from the University of Southern Maine. They aim to get a better understanding of the occupational risks and interventions among shellfish harvesters to inform solutions. Their research will be critical to addressing substance use among harvesters. Among other findings, access to healthcare is a major challenge—especially for those who are self-employed. They also found that the self-employed could benefit from better financial planning to mitigate the boom-and-bust nature of seasonal revenue. Overall, the team has contributed valuable findings in a large state and nationwide discussion about substance use among those in natural resources and seasonal workforces, which is the backbone of Maine’s economy.”


Sam Belknap  
Senior Community Development Officer 

“During this year’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum I was pleasantly surprised to see so many young faces. More importantly, they were the faces of both the fishing and aquaculture industry in addition to the usual university students and early career professionals that are ever present at the Forum. Engaging in this conference that brings together industry members with researchers as well as State and Federal managers creates a foundation of collaboration that is the underpinning of successful fisheries management along the coast. Seeing the next generation this year bolstered my confidence that our long history of great management of our state’s marine resources will continue!”

I was also thrilled to experience my first “story-frame.” This interactive panel contained the photos and recorded interviews of dozens of Forum-goers from 2018 and 2019 in a rehabilitated Airstream trailer by long-time Island Institute partner Galen Koch of the First Coast. These stories were produced collaboratively by the First Coast, Maine Sea Grant, and College of the Atlantic with funding by the Fund for Maine Islands (a partnership between College of the Atlantic and Island Institute), and Maine Sea Grant. The frame was crafted by Perch and contains the faces and voices that capture the diversity present at Forum each year. From Senator Angus King and established leaders in the lobster fishery to small-scale oyster growers, the interviews bring to life the people behind Maine’s blue economy in way that is infinitely relatable. Whether you have salt water in your veins or are new to the coast, the stories and voices pull you in and remind you just why the islands and coast of Maine are truly remarkable places to live and to work.”


Nick Battista
Chief Policy Officer

“For me, the Forum is about more than the sessions and presentations. Those are important, but it is also a chance to see old friends, reconnect with colleagues, and make new friends. This year was particularly exciting because my 6-year-old daughter joined us for part of the time. She made a new friend, the granddaughter of one of the people who coordinates the auction that provides scholarships to fishermen, and danced on the dance floor at the Saturday night ball. It’s not just another meeting, but rather a chance to come together as a community. Having lots of families attending together helps us connect better as people.”