Let me be open from the start — I’m a scientist, and I’m from away.
I spent my first summer in Maine navigating backroads along the coast, collecting fish, and water samples in ponds, rivers and estuaries for a study I was conducting. I’d get up with the sun and travel to various fishways for this work. I’d meet and talk with alewife harvesters, who would often treat me to a cooler full of alewife and blueback herring. I used these fish samples — and the harvesters’ anecdotes — in my research to shed light on where river herring live and grow, and how best to manage populations for the benefit of the fish and the people who depend on this valuable resource. Meeting these fishermen and studying the nearby fish habitats made the mutual dependence coastal communities have with the resources of Maine’s coastal rivers very clear.
As media reports continue to unveil the Trump administration’s proposals, it is also clear that our nation’s environment and natural resources programs are increasingly at risk. Coastal states such as Maine need to pay attention to proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The White House is proposing to slice its budget by 17 percent. Cuts to programs such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and National Weather Service would have far-reaching consequences for programs created to ensure healthy coastal environments and economies. In Maine, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a significant contributor in the effort to save endangered Atlantic salmon in the last remaining rivers in the country in which they still spawn.
What’s most alarming to me is the proposal to eliminate the Sea Grant program. Sea Grant includes 33 programs based at top universities in every coastal and Great Lakes state, Puerto Rico and Guam. The program directs federal resources to pressing problems in local communities, investing in priority research to address coastal community development, preparation for coastal storms, seafood farming and safety, and fisheries management. Impacts of the Sea Grant program are evident throughout Maine, and they include a broad range of efforts, from sponsoring scientific assessments of commercially important species and funding fellowships and academic scholarships to supporting the Maine Seaweed Festival and the Maine Science Festival.
The Maine Sea Grant funded a large portion of my graduate research work on river herring with Dr. Karen Wilson at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. Understanding these remarkable fish continues to impact management and restoration. Today, 35 municipalities in Maine have commercial harvesting rights to river herring — an important revenue source for these towns and a prized bait source for the lobster fishery.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding is critical for my work as a scientist with The Nature Conservancy in Maine, including sea-run fish restoration and monitoring the ecological effects of dam removals and bypasses on the Penobscot River. This collaborative effort helps us understand how to optimize benefits for wildlife and people who enjoy the resources that great Maine rivers provide. The implications of this science are global and may model a framework for large-scale river restoration efforts around the world.
Rather than imposing stringent budget cuts and eliminating proven sound investments in the well-being of our coastal communities, we should embrace agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and programs such as Sea Grant that provide the research needed for cost-effective solutions to some of our nation’s — and our state’s — biggest challenges.
I’ve had the amazing opportunity to explore the beauty of Maine and its tight-knit communities, interact with local fishermen, and see first-hand the importance of maintaining the ecological and economic vitality of Maine’s coast. I now live in this special place, and I am starting a family here — and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Molly Payne Wynne is the freshwater conservation coordinator for The Nature Conservancy in Maine.