Community engagement in science supports healthy coasts

Scientists, citizens and resource managers from across Maine and beyond gathered at the University of Maine at Machias June 17–18 to share knowledge and ideas about how to sustain eastern Maine fisheries and fishing communities into the future. The first-ever State of the Science conference was sponsored by the Eastern Maine Coastal Current Collaborative and included featured presentations by both University of Maine and UMM faculty, along with other researchers, fishers and community members.

The goal of the conference was to identify what is known and needs to be known about the social and ecological dimensions of eastern Maine coastal communities. The effort is aimed to support more integrated and proactive stewardship of the region’s highly valued marine resources into the future.

More than 150 people attended the conference, including fishermen, researchers, students, town managers, tribal representatives, and nonprofit and government officials.

Heather Leslie, director of UMaine’s Darling Marine Center and Libra Associate Professor of Marine Sciences, offered the kick-off plenary talk on the first day, highlighting the principles of ecosystem-based fisheries management and the role interdisciplinary science can play in supporting sustainable management of fisheries and other valuable benefits provided by coastal and ocean systems. She noted the importance of developing research questions and interpreting results in cooperation with fishermen and other community members, drawing on examples from her research in Maine and Mexico.

On the second day of the conference, Joshua Stoll, an assistant research professor in UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences and a cooperative scientist at the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, focused on the human dimensions of ecosystem-based management in a talk on the ecosystem of governance. The presentation drew attention to the complex regulatory environment in the region and highlighted ways in which it is changing people’s connections to fisheries.

“Ecosystem-based fisheries management is the goal for many resource managers, yet it is difficult to put into practice. Scientists can point to few examples of success stories. Launching an effort like this in eastern Maine, starting with important community partners like fishermen and the tribal community, has exciting prospects to be realized on our coast and will have far reaching implications for researchers and managers across the globe,” said Gayle Zydlewski, director of Maine Sea Grant and a faculty member in UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences.

Other UMaine faculty, including Damian Brady, Jeff Runge and Bob Steneck, and UMM faculty member Tora Johnson shared established and emerging findings on the social, oceanographic and ecological dynamics of the Eastern Maine Coastal Current ecosystem.

Significant changes in ecosystem dynamics have been observed in the region in the past 10 years, according to Steneck and Runge. Runge described how changes in right whale behavior can signal larger ecosystem-scale shifts, saying ‘we can learn from the whales’ how the system is changing.

“Down East communities are closely linked with the marine environment in so many ways — economically, culturally, socially — with a long history of collaborative fisheries management. They are also grappling with complex challenges with very limited resources. This region is fertile ground for this kind of work to better understand those complex systems and develop innovative approaches for managing the resources in the future,” said Johnson, chair of UMM’s Environmental and Biological Sciences Division.

Johnson, who served as a conference steering committee member, shared her work supporting community resilience and planning in eastern Maine as part of the event.

The Eastern Maine Coastal Current Collaborative is led by the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, in partnership with the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the federal ocean agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The geographic focus of the Collaborative extends from the western edge of Penobscot Bay to the Canadian border and includes all upland watersheds.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745