ELLSWORTH, Maine — The nonprofit Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System may now be part of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, but funding for the buoy system that generates the data provided by GoMOOS is not likely to change as a result, according to officials.
In other words, finding enough money to keep the buoy system adequately funded will continue to be a challenge, officials said this week.
The buoys themselves, the number of which has been reduced from 11 to seven, are owned and operated by the University of Maine, which uses the weather data collected by the buoys for research. The real-time weather data are made accessible on the Internet are processed and posted online by the GoMOOS organization, not by UMaine.
The merger of GMRI and GoMOOS was announced last week.
According to Dr. Neal Pettigrew, a UMaine oceanography professor and chief scientist for the buoy project, the information provided by the buoys has proved to be more useful outside the scientific community than many people anticipated. Kayakers and surfers are among GoMOOS’ heaviest users, he said, and fishermen check the information the buoys provide to decide whether to go out to sea, he said.
Knowing how safe or workable the sea conditions are undoubtedly has helped fishermen save money by avoiding unproductive fishing trips and has prevented them from risking their lives in rough seas, according to Pettigrew.
“If [fishermen] think it’s important, they need to let people know,” he said.
Clive Farrin, a Boothbay fisherman and president of Down East Lobstermen’s Association, agreed that the weather reporting system can help spare lives and money for fishermen. He said Wednesday that he can recall fewer weather-related fishing fatalities in the midcoast area since advances have been made in reporting real-time conditions at sea.
“I think it brings up a real safety issue to not have all of those [buoys] working,” Farrin said.
Pettigrew said only five of the seven remaining buoys are being funded through the Northeast Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems. NERACOOS receives federal funding not only for weather buoys used by GoMOOS, but also for other buoys in the Gulf of Maine, Long Island Sound, and off the southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island coasts.
Besides the five funded by NERACOOS, one GoMOOS buoy off Gloucester, Mass., is funded by the liquefied natural gas industry and the other, between Rockland and Vinalhaven, is funded by UMaine, Pettigrew said Wednesday. Four others that used to be part of the GoMOOS system are no longer being funded and have been removed from the water, he said.
Pettigrew said that when the GoMOOS buoy system was first established in 2001, it had an annual operating budget of $1.5 million. Its budget this year is about one-third as much.
“Right now, we’re getting approximately $500,000 for the five [NERACOOS-funded] buoys we have in the water,” Pettigrew said. “We would need another million dollars [each year to fully restore the system].”
The remaining GoMOOS buoy sites are near Boon and Monhegan islands, Mount Desert Rock, Jordan Basin and the Northeast Channel south of Nova Scotia. Former buoy sites that are no longer being used are off Eastport, Portland, New Meadows River, and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
According to Farrin, the state’s proposal to set aside as many as four offshore areas for wind turbine test sites presents an opportunity to bolster the amount of weather data available through GoMOOS. Sites that are being considered include off Boon Island in York County, Damariscove and Monhegan islands in Lincoln County, and off Cutler in Washington County.
“If we can’t fish there, we ought to get something out of it,” Farrin said of the turbine sites.
Don Perkins, president of GMRI, said Monday that, though the institute does not have any additional funding available for the buoy system, it would like to see and will continue to advocate for improved federal funding for the buoys.
“Over the past eight or 10 years, the system of buoys gathering information [in the Gulf of Maine] has been of critical importance to the fishing, scientific, shipping and recreational boating communities,” Perkins said. “We support funding for the system because that information is so critical to the maritime community.”