On October 4, the Maine Seafood Industry Gubernatorial Forum took place at the Strand Theater in Rockland. The two-hour public event was hosted by the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the Maine Lobster Dealers Association, the Alewife Harvesters of Maine and the Maine Aquaculture Association. The moderator was seafood journalist James Wright from the Global Aquaculture Association.
The evening kicked off with short statements by each gubernatorial candidate – Alan Caron, Independent, Terry Hayes, Independent, Janet Mills, Democrat, and Sean Moody, Republican. Then the candidates fielded a variety of questions submitted by the host organizations and the public in attendance.
The first question reflected the uneasiness among seafood and fishing circles concerning the direction of the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) under a new administration. The candidates were asked what specific qualities they would look for in a new DMR Commissioner. A person who is a good listener and who can manage change, said Caron. Expertise , honesty, and a good work ethic, said Mills. An advocate for the fishing industry, said Moody. Hayes, who has worked with current DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher on several panels, was blunt. “I think Patrick Keliher is doing a good job. If he wants the job I would like to offer it to him,” she said.
The following questions touched on some of the key issues facing lobstermen and the lobstering industry in Maine. When asked how, as governor, each would address the complicated problems of protecting right whales and ensuring a strong herring supply for lobstermen, Mills said that until there are clear links between the actions of Maine lobstermen and endangerment of right whales, there should be no additional regulations. Hayes said she understood that right whale deaths were due more to Canadian gear than U.S. and proposed telling that story clearly. Moody said he would go to the mat for fishermen. “It’s easy to rail that others don’t know what they are talking about,” Caron said, referring to proposals made to protect right whales. “Keep in mind that nothing has changed in what lobstermen and ships have been doing yet the whales have died. So why put the solution on the backs of Maine lobstermen?” All four candidates answered affirmatively when asked if they would use the Attorney General’s office to wage a legal fight on behalf of lobstermen in the face of new right whale protection measures.
Protection of Maine’s working waterfront, Mills argued, could best be done through the Land For Maine’s Future program, within which is the Working Waterfront Access Grant program. Hayes agreed that support for the program was important, but also suggested looking at any gaps in waterfront protection based on geography. Moody underscored the value that Portland’s working waterfront has for tourists and said, “As governor I would go to the Portland Planning Board and fight for fishermen.” Caron called for fishermen to unify and speak with one voice, as they did when he was involved in the Working Waterfront Alliance.
Finding a balance between offshore wind energy, a renewable resource, and the state’s fishing industry requires the state to develop a broad energy policy, Moody said, not favoring any one source of energy over another. Caron called for a push in solar energy development, with offshore wind ranking second to solar. Hayes noted that offshore energy and fishing are in competition thus there is a need to deal with them with sensitivity. “The fishing industry would be a partner at the table during the siting process for wind energy,” said Mills.
The candidates were asked if they would support using state money to match the $2.5 million in harvester and processor fees that currently funds the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Caron said, “Absolutely.” Moody called for the money to be used “dynamically” and applied to work force development. Hayes said, “Probably,” but would want to see a plan for how the money would be used and the results measured. Mills did not answer because she had left the stage for another event in Portland.
Special thank you to Melissa Waterman and Maine Lobstermen’s Association for this forum summary.