ORONO, Maine — The future of Maine Sea Grant lies in the mud, Robin Alden told the 75 people gathered Tuesday to mark the 30th anniversary of the program.
“We need to ask the question, ‘What can we learn from the mud?’” the executive director of the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington told the group gathered at the Buchanan Alumni House at the University of Maine.
Alden explained that when she worked with the fledgling University of Maine program in the early 1980s, she and others went to the University of Maine at Machias to talk with clam and worm diggers. Ideas for several research projects grew out of that 30-minute discussion, she said.
“Academia often works from the top down,” Alden said, “but because of these programs’ interaction with working fishermen and coastal communities, information flows out of the mud and up. That’s what makes us advance and that’s how we’re going to take care of the ocean for the future.”
In greeting the program’s former and current students and staff, as well as representatives of local organizations, Director Paul Anderson reminded attendees Tuesday of what was happening in the United States when the program began its work three decades ago.
Jimmy Carter was president, Pac Man was putting pinball machines in mothballs, a 24-hour television news service called CNN began broadcasting and it cost 15 cents to mail a letter to Congress to complain about the high price of gas — $1.25 a gallon, Anderson said.
Then and now, the two major prongs of Maine Sea Grant are research and outreach education. Its mission is similar to the Cooperative Extension Center, but it focuses on coastal communities and marine resources rather than agriculture.
The program, according to information in its strategic plan, provides:
• Formal and informal learning opportunities to engage stakeholders in marine and coastal issues.
• Support to help facilitate effective participation of stakeholders in natural resource management, and to integrate science and multiple perspectives into the dialogues that lead to new management strategies.
• High-quality scientific information that is used to understand, develop and implement policies for sustainable uses of coastal natural resources.
Over the past 30 years, Maine Sea Grant provided funds to start the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, an industry publication, the Portland Fish Exchange, the first state survey on beach erosion and a lobster stock assessment model that is now being used by states along the Eastern Seaboard.
Maine Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Maine. The two-year budget for the program through 2012 is nearly $3.5 million, according to information at www.seagrant.umaine.edu.