Fishermen’s forum to focus on streamlining costs

Posted March 04, 2009, at 10:24 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — If there is one theme that likely will stand out from others at this year’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum, it is how fishermen can streamline their costs and operations in the wake of increasing regulation and decreasing catches, according to a forum organizer.

The three-day forum, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today at the Samoset Resort, will feature several seminars that address issues such as energy costs, bait supply, direct marketing and other ways fishermen might decrease their costs while maximizing their profits, forum Coordinator Chilloa Young said Wednesday.

Young said fishermen are facing multiple increased costs, such as fuel and bait, as well as the new federal mandate for offshore lobstermen to use expensive sinking ground lines on their trap trawls. These mounting expenses, and increasing restrictions on some fisheries such as herring and scallops, have been making the economic prospects of earning a living from the sea less promising and more difficult, she said.

“They’re just trying to survive,” Young said. “It’s becoming more of a push for a fisherman to catch what he caught 10 years ago.”

Thursday’s main seminar, titled “Fisheries Economic Survival 101,” will touch upon many of these business issues. Finance and marketing officials, employees with Billings Diesel, representatives from Penobscot East Resource Center and others will participate in the 1 p.m. seminar, according to Young. Officials from PERC will talk about their effort to design a lobster boat that runs on a more fuel-efficient, hybrid engine, she said.

Friday seminars that will touch upon fishing economics include “Fishing as a Small Business Enterprise,” “New Ways to Make a Living on the Water,” “Rethinking the Lobster Business from Trap to Plate” and “Catch Share Management.” Other similarly themed seminars scheduled for Saturday include “New Face of a Changing Working Waterfront,” “Communities at Sea,” “Thriving on Smaller Catch,” “Strategic Marketing for the 21st Century” and “Community Fishing Rights.”

Young said that for the first time, the forum will include a display of fishing gear that has been recovered from whale entanglements. A discussion of how lobster gear affects whales is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.

As usual, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association plans to hold its annual meeting at the forum, at 9 a.m. Friday. MLA members will be briefed about the results of a 2008 membership survey and the status of the organization’s strategic planning process, according to a seminar description.

Patrice McCarron, MLA’s executive director, said Wednesday that the meeting will include a Q&A session with the group’s legal team from the Washington, D.C., law firm Hogan & Hartson, which has been doing pro bono work for MLA on the issue of how lobster fishing gear affects whales. MLA is not fighting the impending implementation of the sinking ground line requirement, McCarron said, but is being careful to maintain its legal counsel for other potential federal restrictions on issues such as buoy lines and trap limits.

“We want the membership to know that [Hogan & Hartson] are still with us,” McCarron said.

The forum also will include seminars on other fishery and waterfront issues such as scallop and herring management, lobster data, halibut regulations, cod farming, tidal and wind energy, and others.

A scholarship auction will be held Friday night, with scholarship winners announced Saturday. The documentary film “Fishermen’s Voices: Insight into the Future” by North Haven filmmaker Cecily Pingree will be screened at the forum at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Young said between 2,500 and 3,500 people are expected to attend the forum this year.

More information on the forum is available on the Internet at www.mainefishermensforum.org.

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