ROCKPORT, Maine — For those who are concerned about the state of the once-iconic fishing industry in Maine, it may seem that all they can do to help is to purchase locally caught fish. But a new non-profit organization called the Midcoast Maine Fishing Heritage Alliance is working to change that.
A panel from the alliance gave a presentation Saturday at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum at the Samoset Resort in Rockport about the opportunities they hope to present to fishermen and Mainers alike.
“We think it can become a model for how community members help sustain an industry,” said Sherman Hoyt of Owls Head, the president of the board of directors.
The 30-member alliance is dedicated to working to keep Maine’s fishery alive and well.
“While not every family in midcoast Maine is a fishing family, all are connected to the fisheries in some way,” states a brochure.
According to the mission, the alliance’s role is to increase public awareness about both the historic and contemporary importance of the fishing industry to local communities. There are two general categories of programs that it offers: vessel repair and maintenance, and education and community outreach.
Fishermen who are interested in speaking to groups, serving on panels and otherwise sharing their insights with people will receive in exchange credits that are redeemable for vessel safety equipment and repairs. The credits can be used in many midcoast marine supply stores, according to the board of directors. Those credits are funded by membership fees and donations, a panelist said.
Fisherman Randy Cushman of Port Clyde said that the non-profit alliance helped him last year.
“What they’re doing is trying to preserve the heritage, and I’m part of that,” he said.
Hoyt said that in the past, fishermen were better equipped to help each other. But now fishing gear and boats are much higher-tech and the community is much smaller, making that a much more challenging proposition.
“We’re not all complaining about how hard things are,” said fisherman Glen Libby of Port Clyde. “We’re getting help through this alliance we’re all working on.”
According to Hoyt, a lot of people who live along the coast know very little about what actually happens on the water.
“What I’ve been incredibly surprised by are how many fishing communities know almost nothing about the fishery,” he said.
He and other directors believe that the surge of interest in sustainable and locally grown and sourced food may lead to even more support for local fishermen and the fishing industry.
But while education and outreach is important, it’s certainly not the entire point of the alliance.
“The real mission is to keep the fleet safe,” he said.
Panelist and adviser Tom Armitage said that the vouchers for safety gear and repairs is not a handout.
“It is earned credit,” he said. “Donors want to see a system where people are helping themselves.”
Ted Hoskins of Isle au Haut, who listened in the audience, said after the panel that he thought the alliance was the kind of thing that “needs to happen.”
“People come up here … they look at [the coast], it’s beautiful, and they don’t have any way to be a part of it,” he said. “This allows them to bridge the gap.”
For more information about Midcoast Maine Fishing Heritage Alliance, visit the website www.midcoastfishingheritage.org.