Maine Sea Grant supports Maine Fishermen’s Forum through pandemic

Contributor: Natalie Springuel, Marine Extension Associate

“It’s really cool to watch them grow.” That was David Wilson, a shellfish harvester and chair of the Harpswell Marine Resources Committee, talking about the quahogs that he and his fellow committee members are growing to help their town’s shellfish populations thrive. Wilson explained that they are using an upweller, a device that moves seawater and the nutrients it carries up through shellfish beds to bring food to the quahogs. Wilson shared his insights and experiences at a recent Maine Shellfish Day webinar hosted by the Maine Fishermen’s Forum and then re-broadcast on Coastal Conversations, Maine Sea Grant’s monthly public affairs radio show on WERU Community Radio.

This Maine Shellfish Day is a virtual reimagining of a classic Maine Fishermen’s Forum session, and just one of many virtual events that Maine Sea Grant is helping the Forum host in 2021. Though we may not be able to provide support in person, this year marks one more year of a decades-long relationship between the Maine Fishermen’s Forum and Maine Sea Grant.

In the 1970’s, one of Maine Sea Grant’s first major projects was to support the inaugural Maine Fishermen’s Forum. The Forum has been held annually ever since. Lauded as the most effective event for building community, the Maine Fishermen’s Forum serves as the seminal gathering for the Maine and New England fishing industries. It brings together fishermen, aquaculturists, fisheries managers, researchers, municipal officials, non-profits, and trade organizations in a unique and, many would agree, critical setting for conversation around what are sometimes contentious issues across the sectors. In 1982, Maine Sea Grant and the University of Maine handed the organizational reins over to the industry, and the Maine Fishermen’s Forum became a 501(c)3 in 1987. We have remained deeply engaged throughout the decades by serving on that board and hosting seminars, research updates, and special events at the Forum.

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, the Maine Fishermen’s Forum (always the first weekend in March) was the last in-person event that many members of the industry and related organizations attended. Fast-forward a year, and the 2021 Maine Fishermen’s Forum was, like so many other events, cancelled due to COVID-19. But, Maine Sea Grant rallied the troops and proposed to the Forum Board that, with our help, the Forum legacy could persist uninterrupted.

Maine Sea Grant Director Gayle Zydlewski serves on the Maine Fishermen’s Forum board of directors and is the chair of the ad hoc Forum “Customer Content” committee, created during the pandemic. As such, she has worked with Forum board members to prioritize topics and sessions to make sure critical information is still available. She has seen the implementation of a robust roster of events, led by Forum Board members with the support of our Maine Sea Grant team. We may not be able to replicate the in-person interaction across sectors and with research and management that makes the Forum so legendary, but by working collaboratively with the Board and many organizations, Maine Sea Grant is helping keep the Maine Fishermen’s Forum alive.

For our team, it has been an all-hands-on-deck effort. At this time (early March) we are so pleased to see the attendance and engagement in the events so far. For the most current information about events, follow the Maine Fishermen’s Forum Facebook page or check out the schedule posted on their website.