The Challenge – Maine’s coastal fishing communities today face two, linked critical issues. First, communities which once harvested a rich array of commercial species now only see lobster in abundance. And even that monoculture fishery is itself at risk from overpopulation, and climate change that is warming the Gulf of Maine faster than 99.9% of the planet. Only knowledgeable, community-minded and engaged fishermen can assume the stewardship of this shared resource, partnering with scientists and regulators to achieve recovery of depleted commercial species and meet the challenges of climate change. Educating the next generation of fishermen for both individual success and for this leadership role is of primary importance.
Second, many youths in these communities intend to become fishermen, but too often are ill-prepared for the many individual and community hurdles they will face. Too many are unchallenged by or uninterested in high school, and fail to see the need to prepare to address the issues described above. If they graduate at all, many, probably most, lack the range of skills and knowledge to face rapidly changing business and fishing environments. How can we help prepare these students for the future they will inherit?
The Opportunity – Eastern Maine Skippers (EMSP) is a regional school program built in and reaching students in their own communities. A core goal is to create a promising model for implementing such an innovative program in rural schools. EMSP is designed to engage and inspire prospective commercial fishermen and others interested in marine careers. The focus is on the core knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the Gulf of Maine in the 21st century. A good high school education, critical thinking skills, business and fishing skills, a solid grounding in fishery science and stewardship; all are essential to Maine’s fisheries and fishing communities in the future.
The Approach – EMSP is a collaborative educational program operating in eight fishing community high schools, across 200 miles of the eastern Maine Coast. – In four years the EMSP has grown from 40 to 100 students in eight schools. EMSP works in conjunction with teachers and school administrations across the region. The Rural Aspirations Project designs curriculum and provides teaching support for EMSP teachers. Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries facilitates access to scientists, the fishing industry and community members to make the curriculum authentic and engaging.
As an academic rather than a vocational program, EMSP learning experiences are aligned with state and national academic standards, ensuring rigorous study that emphasizes high school graduation. It prepares students to enter a commercial fishery, another marine career, or higher education following high school.
A core curriculum focuses on critical fisheries topics. These include traditional seamanship and safety skills, fisheries governance structure, public speaking and fisheries management, as well as business planning and financial literacy. Within that frame, each school can implement the fishing-based curriculum within its own structure, schedule, and capacity. Curricula will be refined and new curricula added with more experience and changing needs.
As essential as academic course work, EMSP students work closely with community partners. These connections, which often become mentors, help young people see how classroom work now can be of direct usefulness later. They meet local fishermen, scientists, leaders from fisheries organizations and regulators.
A central feature of EMSP is a shared, program-wide, year-long project in which students meet and work with students from other schools. These projects require students to work collaboratively to investigate serious challenges within the fishing industry, to research, develop and present effective solutions.
In year one the projects explored the viability of an inshore winter flounder fishery. In year two they involved entrepreneurial and management solutions related to invasive green crabs.
Last year they focused on lobsters, the backbone of the economy in Eastern Maine. EMSP students examined and analyzed international shipping, the efficiency of traditional traps, improved handling and storage systems for boats, and the efficiency of lobster boats. The winning project, addressing environmentally friendly ways to clean lobster buoys, involved a 3-D printer and has resulted in a connection with a manufacturer in China and sales calls to local marine supply stores.
The Next Steps – EMSP will develop new units of curriculum, aligned with state and national learning standards so that EMSP courses all satisfy requirements of the Maine high school diploma. Also important is to expand school collaboration and community partners, and to build capacity to deliver education through a proficiency- and project-based approach.
A major step forward toward achieving these goals is the addition of Paul Molyneaux to the EMSP team. Paul brings forty years of fishing, aquaculture and journalism experience to his new position as Fisheries Education Specialist for Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. His experience as a home-school parent and teacher at past EMSP cohort days has fueled his passion for connecting his fisheries knowledge and belief in sustainability with the next generation of fishermen.
What you can do – EMSP is a $325,000/year program. Sixty percent of the program is foundation funded with the balance from corporate and private donations. The program is in the second year of a three-year, $100,000/year grant from the J.T. Gorman Foundation. Other foundation funding includes The Betterment Fund, Long Cove Foundation, and Eaton Foundation. The program was also awarded a grant from the Maine Lobster Research and Development Fund in 2016 for the development of lobster biology and management curriculum.