State of Marine Fisheries in Maine 2008
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State of Marine Fisheries in Maine 2008

Caitlin Casey, Seth Chanin, and Caitlin Dufraine

Executive Summary

This chapter examines the state of Maine's marine fisheries by considering historical harvest trends, the communities that rely on the resource, and the potential for human activity to substantially alter the state of the fisheries.  Historic harvest trends for important species, the harvest effort, and the efficiency in the lobster industry suggest that Maine's fisheries are relatively stable and valuable compared to other fisheries in New England.  In 1950 Maine's fisheries accounted for 24% of the total value of New England fisheries; today they represent 35% of the total value. 

In 2008, 2,200 wild Atlantic salmon returned to spawn in Maine's rivers, an increase from the previous year.  This indicates that Maine has effective regulation and monitoring of aquaculture which is aiding wild Atlantic salmon stocks to recover from near extinction.  Recent actions to remove dams on Maine rivers and to extend the geographic coverage of Atlantic salmon's endangered species listing have further improved the outlook for this species.
In examining the geographic distribution of value, harvests, and demographic characteristics of fishing communities, we find that coastal communities in Downeast Maine depend most heavily on commercial fishing and commercial fishing access.  In 2008, the unprecedented 33% decrease in the price of lobster serves as a reminder of the vulnerability of the fishing industry.  
Although Maine's marine fisheries are currently considered stable, these fisheries remain susceptible to uncertain and changing economic, biological and environmental pressures.  Ensuring the continued economic viability of fisheries requires careful and sustainable management, as has existed for the last 15 years with the lobster fishery. 


Fisheries in a Global Context

Marine fisheries yield 80% of global fish production and 80 million tons of harvest each year (Jennings 2005).  In 2004, the value of global marine fisheries was an estimated $84.9 billion, and it continues to grow (FAO 2006).  As the world population grows, the demand for seafood and value of marine resources increase.

Fish stocks, a transboundary common property resource, may move across political boundaries and require international cooperation to regulate.  Competition for marine resources to maximize economic and nutritional value, increases fishing effort.  Free access to fisheries often results in a "race to the bottom" between extractors, leading to fishery overexploitation and depletion (Hardin 1968). Over harvesting is one of the greatest threats to marine fisheries; at least 29% of fish stocks worldwide have already collapsed.  If current rates of fish stock depletion continue, it is estimated that the world could run out of seafood by 2048 (Eilperin 2006).  The loss of these populations would be devastating because one billion people rely on seafood as an important source of protein, and 56% of the world population obtains at least 20% of its animal protein from seafood (FAO 2003).

With worldwide declines in fish stock and increasing demand for food, aquaculture as a means of harvesting fish is becoming increasingly common.  Between 1992 and 2002, the global production of marine farmed products tripled; in 2003, nearly 40% of fish, and 70% of salmon consumed worldwide, were products of aquaculture (Naylor et al. 2005).  Finfish aquaculture sites represent major sources of pollution, because they produce large quantities of waste feed, feces, and dissolved nutrients that enter surrounding waters causing algal blooms, hypoxia, and dead zones (Sowles and Churchill 2004).  Fish that escape from aquaculture pens also pollute the marine environment and pose a serious threat of genetic hybridization for native fish populations.

Relevance to Topic

The harvest of Maine's marine resources has long been connected to the economic success of the state.  Maine's 3,500 mile long coast is one of the state's most valuable natural resources, supporting several large sectors of the economy including commercial fishing, recreation, tourism, housing, and development.  The cold coastal waters are ideal habitats for valuable species such as American lobster, Atlantic cod, and Atlantic salmon (MLPC 2005). 

These fisheries have helped define the state's cultural identity.  For generations, Maine's indigenous Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet peoples relied on fish, crustaceans, porpoises, and ocean plants for subsistence.  Each spring, the migration of these species brought indigenous communities to the coast where they enjoyed Maine's marine resources during the summer months.  Early European settlers were also astounded by the bounty of the fishery stocks.  This connection to the sea and appreciation for the state's marine resources still persists among Maine residents today (MDMR 2006).     


In the early 19th century, the market for Maine fish reached regional and national scales. Today, as many as 50 species in Maine are harvested for consumption or secondary purposes (NMFS 2008).  In 1996, Maine's marine economy, including commercial fishing, tourism, shipping, ship building, and research, accounted for 7% of the Gross State Product (Roach et al. 1996).  The state's fisheries are diverse and remain relatively stable compared to regional counterparts (ASMFC 2005).  Select fisheries that were once healthy and economically viable, such as Atlantic salmon and Atlantic cod, have been depleted as a result of anthropogenic pressures such as pollution and overfishing.
Maine's American lobster has become an iconic consumer good worldwide and its fishery a model for successful community-based management. The lobster industry is the nation's oldest commercial fishery, dating back to early settlers' recognition of the utility of the species in 1605 (MDMR 2006).  At this time, lobster was so common that colonists called it "peasant food," government fed it to prisoners, and the Passamaquoddy used it as fertilizers.  In the mid-19th century, Boston businessmen began to market the product nationally in expanding urban centers.  Today, Maine supplies 85% of the nation's lobster (Burns 2008).
In 2007, the lobster fishery hauled nearly 58 million pounds with a dock value of roughly $260 million, while in 2004 the estimated 3.2 million traps fished in Maine resulted in $256 million worth of gear sales (NMFS 2008, MLPC 2005). Between the value of the lobster harvested and the lobster industry's expenditures, the harvest in 2007 contributed an estimated $1 billion to the state's economy (Canfield 2008).  The economic value of the fishing industry, however, can only be realized if the resources are managed sustainably and fishermen continue to have access to the state's coastal and marine resources.     
Not all of Maine's fisheries are as healthy as the lobster fishery.  Fifty years ago, Atlantic salmon in Maine represented an economically and biologically rich fish stock.  In recent years, the number of Atlantic salmon returning to Maine rivers has dipped as low as 1,280 per year, though 150 years ago it was between 500,000 and 1,000,000 (DSF 2008). Anthropogenic disturbances such as habitat fragmentation including the construction of barriers that prevent migration, overfishing, pollution, and climate change have nearly wiped out populations of Maine Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar).  These disturbances continue to pose significant threats to all of Maine's saltwater fish populations that utilize inland rivers and streams for spawning.
Finfish aquaculture also threatens Atlantic salmon.  In 2007, Maine aquaculture produced 8,562,277 pounds Atlantic salmon (MDMR 2008a).  Atlantic salmon farms discharge organic waste, serve as breeding grounds for disease. With nearly 40% of salmon caught in the Atlantic originating from aquaculture, fish escaping from aquaculture pens comprise the genetic diversity of wild stocks (Naylor et al. 2001). 
Fisheries are complex ecosystems whose intricacies are difficult to understand or predict.  Achieving long-term sustainability requires persistent monitoring and evaluation.  It is necessary to design policy regulations that account for and safeguard against these stochastic events.

Focus of the Report

In this chapter, we aim to assess the state of Maine's fisheries, fishing industry, and coastal communities.  We begin by studying the laws and institutions that shape the management of the resource.  Second, we look at the trends of fishery's harvest by value and pound, and the effort expended to harvest a variety of species over time. Third, we focus on the reliance of coastal communities on Maine's marine resources and the way industry demographics have changed over time. Our final analysis examines the effect of pollution on the health of Maine's fisheries, with an emphasis on the aquaculture industry's impact on wild Atlantic salmon.  Finally, taking into account the uncertainty of climate change, market forces, and fishery stocks, we present scenarios that address characteristics of Maine's fisheries that may exist in the future.

Laws and Institutions

We examine major federal and state laws relevant to marine fisheries harvest as well as inland and coastal pollution.  These laws and institutions outline management objectives, regulations, and implementation, and designate specific agencies to oversee these policies. 

Table 3.1 Federal and State laws relating to marine fisheries

Laws Relevant to Marine Fisheries Harvest

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1987)

This international convention established Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) to extend state territorial waters worldwide.  The US has the largest EEZ with an area of 11,351,000 km².  The Convention ensures a nation's economic rights to marine resources (UN 2007). In Maine, this regulation was important during the early 1960s when Soviet and Japanese boats were exploiting Maine's groundfish populations at unsustainable levels (ASMFC 2005).


The US has enacted its own laws in order to strengthen protections against foreign competition for marine resources.  Over time, legislation evolved to focus on fisheries sustainability instead of economic interest.

Magnuson-Stevens Act (1976)

The Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) was initially signed to both protect domestic fishermen from foreign pressure and maintain fish stock at the maximum stainable yield (MSY) (Table 3.1).  As protectionist legislation, it responds to an increasing presence of foreign fleets within US waters.  The act creates an EEZ that gave the United States restricted rights to fisheries within 200 miles from shore, and precludes other nations from overfishing.  Principally, the law claims US federal authority over all foreign-owned vessels within the EEZ.  Regulations on foreign fishing include international fishery agreements, permits, and import prohibitions (Pub. L 94-265).

Under MSA, federal authority for fisheries management is given to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). MSA establishes eight regional fishery management councils mandated to establish a fishery management plan (FMP) for the region.  By complying with national standards, FMPs aim to maintain fish stocks at their optimum yield, to use best available scientific information, and to minimize cost to ecosystem and fishing communities (Brown 2003).  Maine is a part of the New England region.

Sustainable Fisheries Act (1996)

An amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) emphasizes the protection of fishery stocks over economic prosperity; the 1976 Act lacked conservation objectives.  The amendment was created to address substantial fish stock reduction that occurred due to habitat loss and surge in US fishing power after MSA was enacted.  Downward trends in fisheries that contributed to this act include overcapacity, reduced profits, and dangerous fishing seasons. These amendments reflect the goal of biological conservation of fish stocks, coupled with protection of ocean habitat.  Policy aims and requirements include the inclusion of individual fishing quotas (IFQs), reduction of by catch, and fees and gear restriction (Brown 2003).  Additionally, it promotes non-industrial uses of fishing resources and highlights noncommercial ecosystem services.  Unfortunately, by 2002 scientists believed that SFA was not effective in ending problems of overfishing and claimed that the majority of industrial fish species were being harvested at unsustainable rates (Pub. L. 94-265).

Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (1993)

Recognizing that fishery resources cannot be bounded, this Act provides federal funding for Atlantic states to undertake collaborative management efforts (MRS 12 Chapter 621 §6501-6594 1983).  Additionally, it enables the NMFS to impose a moratorium on any commercial fishing activity that takes place in a state that does not comply with regional FMPs.  This act promotes sharing of technology and policy successes and encourages continued efforts to keep up-to-date with available scientific information about fishing stocks.  Finally, it creates a unified management plan that must act in accordance with all federal fisheries management schemes established by the US Fisheries Commission (Buck 1995).


Title 12 Marine Resource Regulations

This chapter of Maine Revised Statutes declares that regulation of marine organisms should consider traditional use of marine organisms, economic benefits to the state of harvesting, and the optimum economic and biological management of marine resources. The statute provides for a complete cost-benefit analysis of state marine ecosystems, conducted by the Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) before regulation is enacted. Additionally, fishery industries are required to develop "sustainably," a threshold of sustainable stock yields that is established based on best available science.  Finally, fishermen safety should be the most important criteria in creating fisheries regulation (MRS 12 Chapter 607 §6171-6193 1977).

Lobster and Crab Fishing Licenses

Only Maine residents with a registered lobster license are legally allowed to capture and transport lobster or crab from Maine marine zones. Licenses are divided into three classes, which permit varying levels of extraction, transportation, and commercial activities. Unique to Maine is the Lobster Apprentice Program, whereby any individual interested in the commercial lobster industry must complete a two-year apprenticeship with a licensed fishermen before s/he is granted his or her own license (Maine Policy Review 1996).

Lobstermen must comply with restrictive measurements that limit the lobsters that may be taken. First, a lobster cannot be taken that is smaller than 3.25 inches from eye socket to the end of the body shell. Second, licensed commercial fishermen may submerge no more than 800 lobster traps (before February of 2000, this number was 1,000). Traps must be marked by buoys and comply with statewide trap standards. Traps must be outfitted with escape vents to prevent capturing non-desired species and individuals too small to meet the requirements. It is illegal to cut or take the traps of another fisherman. Third, Maine requires that any egg-bearing female that is captured have a v-shaped cut placed on the tail and be released. It is illegal to capture and keep any v-notched individual (MRS 12 Chapter 607 §6421-6477 1977).

Maine is divided into seven lobster management zones to which every license holder belongs. Members of the zone are permitted to adopt rules for their individual zones, as long as they are at least as restrictive as the state regulations (Acheson et al. 2000). This allows for communities of fishermen to create unified management plans based on the needs of their regional ecosystem and socioeconomic status.

Finfish Licenses

Like lobstermen, finfish fishermen are required to have a license in order to participate in commercial fishery trade. Fishermen must limit the use of nets and purse seines in the vicinity of weirs. These are structures that provide important connections between ocean and river habitats---transition zones that are crucial to the survival of Atlantic salmon. Before receiving a license to handharvest sea urchin and scallops underwater, fishermen must undertake education courses because of the dangers associated with this form of fishing. Fishermen are prohibited from fishing in groundfish spawning areas once they have been identified in order to maintain the juvenile stock of finfish.  Additionally, some species, like herring and Atlantic salmon, are regulated by size restrictions (MRS 12 Chapter 621 §6501-6594 2001).

Shellfish Licenses

Like other fisheries, shellfish require licensing in order to undertake commercial activities and operate a shellfish boat. Regulations also dictate that shellfish can only be captured by hand without the assistance of underwater breathing devices. There are size regulations on individuals that can be taken, such as a two-inch minimum on soft-shell clam. Fisheries may be subject to closed seasons and are limited as to how far they can be dragged during harvesting (MRS 12 Chapter 623 §6601-6823 1993).  A percentage of all license sales are contributed to funds developed for continued scientific research on the health of fishery populations and their conservation needs. Additionally, these funds may be used to enforce fishery regulations or mitigate coastal development and ocean habitat destruction.

These statewide fishery regulations ensure the long-term sustainability of Maine's commercial fishing industry in compliance with the national standards established in FMPs. Although the success of the industry in the long-term is beneficial for the state's economy as a whole, fishermen have historically been concerned about increased restrictions on their activities.

In 2002, for example, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed a lawsuit against US Department of Commerce requesting more stringent regulations be placed on commercial fisheries in order to rebuild fish populations in New England (US District Court of DC 2000). These restrictions included fewer annual fishing days, larger holes in nets, and areas closed to fishing in order to protect fragile habitats and breeding grounds of groundfish. The court case, Conservation Law Foundation v. Evans, claimed that current provisions against bycatch and overfishing did not comply with the Sustainable Fisheries Act. Despite complaints by groups of fishing organizations, the more stringent requirements were enacted in March of 2002. Fishermen had feared that the restrictions were too constraining and inflicted economic losses on their livelihoods.

Laws Relevant to Marine Pollution and Aquaculture

Federal Laws

Clean Water Act (1972)

The Clean Water Act (CWA) represented a major turning point in the nation's water protection regime.  Targeting both point source and non-point source pollutants, CWA sets water quality standards as well as industrial pollution standards.   In achieving these standards, CWA requires that permits must be obtained in order to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters.  To facilitate this permitting system, CWA created the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) through EPA to issue permits to industrial polluters. Individual polluters, such as residential septic systems, do not need permits (Duff 2008, USC Title 33 §1251 1972).

With regard to aquaculture, US Public Interest Group v. Atlantic Salmon of Maine (2002) ruled that CWA should classify the net pens used in aquaculture as concentrated aquatic animal production facilities (CAAPs), thus requiring them to obtain NPDES permits. Higbee v. Starr also ruled that waste materials, such as fish feces, produced in aquaculture should be considered an agricultural pollutant (Duff 2008).  In 2003, Maine took over control of the state's NPDES permits under MDEP and changed their name to Maine Pollution Discharge Elimination System (MPDES).  MPDES permits are obtained for the same discharge types as NPDES permits.  CWA only applies to waters within a three mile jurisdictional boundary extending out from the coast.

Endangered Species Act (1973)

In 2008, US Endangered Species Act (ESA) lists 67 marine species which are in danger of extinction (EPA 2008).  National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is responsible for the listing of marine species and enforcement of this act.  ESA programs and initiatives include analysis of critical habitat, formation of recovery plans, and facilitation of interagency, interstate, and international cooperation and conservation efforts.

Ocean Dumping Ban Act (1988)

This Federal Act bans the dumping of any sewage sludge or industrial waste into the exclusive economic zone set by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Administered by the Environmental, any offshore aquaculture must receive an exemption from EPA in order to dump waste such as aquaculture byproducts (Borgatti 2004).

State Laws

Maine Endangered Species Act (1975)

Maine ESA was established in response to fears that some species of fish, notably Atlantic salmon, were being threatened with extinction in Maine's coastal waters (MDIFW 2008).  Enforcement of this act is the responsibility of the Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

In 2000, Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of Maine and eight Maine rivers were listed as endangered.  Atlantic salmon in the Androscoggin, Penobscot, and Kennebec rivers were not listed, pending further research (NOAA Fisheries Service 2008a). These rivers remained exempt as a result of state officials' fears that listing salmon on these rivers would harm Maine's aquaculture, logging, and blueberry farming industries (Miller 2008).  In 2004, NMFS, in conjunction with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) created the Draft Recovery Plan (DRP) for the Gulf of Maine Population Segment of Atlantic Salmon (NOAA Fisheries Service 2008a).  Based on the Atlantic salmon's inclusion in both the Federal and State ESAs, DRP directly links aquaculture as potentially harmful to wild Atlantic Salmon, thus implying that any aquaculture activities deems to pose a threat to Atlantic salmon are considered "takes" and thus violate ESA.  Activities constituting a "take" include dumping toxic chemicals, aquaculture fish escapes, destruction or alteration of natural habitat.  

Maine Aquaculture Laws (1973)              

This set of laws charges the MDMR with the responsibility of regulating aquaculture through the issuance of permits/leases of state waters.  Four types of leases may be issued:

1.   Limited-purpose leases act as experimental leases which are granted for small-scale, short term aquaculture projects.  These are frequently issued for scientific research.
2.   Standard leases are often large-scale (100+ acres) and are issued for the commercial production of bottom and suspended culture of shellfish, finfish, and seaweed.  No single tenant may hold more than 300 acres for non-fallowed waters: net pens containing stock of live fish.
3.   Limited-purpose aquaculture licenses are issued on a year-long basis for the culture of any of five specific shellfish on no more than 400 square feet of bottom area.  These permits are issued without the extensive application process so that tenants may "try out" an area before applying for a full-scale lease.
4.   Emergency shellfish leases may be issued on a temporary basis should shellfish need to be moved from an existing lease area due to an immediate threat to the stock.

This set of laws includes provisions for importing live marine organisms, research, monitoring, operational restrictions, and use of antibiotics and fertilizers (MRS 12 Chapter 605 §6071-6673 1973).

Marine Resources Regulations (1983)

Established to expand upon the 1973 Aquaculture Laws, these regulations explicitly define DMR's role in granting aquaculture lease sites. Details include fee structures, site demarcation, public scoping sessions, state intervention, dispute resolution, maintenance standards, and monitoring. 

Maine Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA) (1987)

This law serves to protect wetlands and other coastal resources such as sand dunes from harmful activities.  Such activities include bulldozing, soil removal, and any sort of development that may interfere with aquatic ecosystems or cause sedimentation of important juvenile fish habitats.     


Maine's marine fisheries are important economic resources, and many diverse stakeholders have a vested interest in their future.  Key stakeholders actively involved in the discourse concerning the management of Maine's marine fisheries include non-profit organizations, state and local government agencies, the commercial fishing, recreational fishing, aquaculture and tourism industries, and coastal communities.

Government Agencies

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries Service) oversees the management of marine resources and resources within the US EEZ.  NOAA Fisheries Service monitors species stocks and fishing regulations to ensure the viability of the national fisheries (NOAA Fisheries Service 2008a).  Likewise, NMFS is responsible for the conservation of marine resources in order "to achieve a continued optimum utilization of living marine resources for the benefit of the Nation" (NMFS 2002).  USFWS also seeks "to efficiently achieve voluntary habitat conservation" of rivers and coastal areas by providing financial and technical assistance to individuals and organizations (USFWS 2008).

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is responsible for overseeing the management of marine fisheries from Maine to North Carolina.  ASMFC seeks to ensure that the near shore fishery resource is used sustainably.  Three commissioners, including the state's marine fisheries management agency, a state legislator, and an individual appointed by the governor represent each member state.  The commission works to create "self-sustaining populations for all Atlantic coast fish species, or successful restoration well in progress, by the year 2015" (ASMFC 2008).  To achieve this end the commissioners negotiate the terms of five main policy initiatives: interstate fisheries management, research and data collection, fisheries science, habitat conservation, and law enforcement. 

The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), formed following the Magnuson-Stevenson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, is one of eight regional fishery councils that manage the region's marine resources.  NEFMC's role in marine management is to propose fishery management strategies and plans that upon NOAA's approval are implemented at the regional level (NOAA Fisheries Service 2008a).

MDMR is divided into four distinct Bureaus: Administration, Marine Development, Marine Sciences, and Marine Patrol.  It is responsible for the conservation and development of the state's marine resources.  Its involvement in managing the marine fisheries ranges from funding scientific research to working in conjunction with the commercial and recreational fishing industries (MDMR 2000).  Based on the information the MDMR gathers and stakeholders' priorities, the Department makes policy recommendations to government agencies pertaining to the use, regulation, and development of marine areas. 

In order to maintain informed involvement in most of the discussions involving Maine's marine resources, the MDMR is divided into a variety of advisory councils.  For example, issues pertaining to the management of lobster fisheries fall under the jurisdiction of the Lobster Advisory Council.  The Lobster Advisory Council's legislative duties include determining how to allocate the revenue from licensing fees and establishing the opening and closing dates for Maine's lobster season.  Likewise, the Recreational Marine Advisory Council works to represent the interests of recreational fishermen and to influence policies pertaining to the recreational use of marine resources.  The focus of its effort is to facilitate communication between the commercial and recreational fishing industries in order to improve access to marine game fish (MDMR 2008b). 

MDMR also protects the interest of land-based communities through programs such as the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program (WWAPP).  WWAPP supports coastal fishing communities by funding the preservation of coastal property that is vital to commercial fishing (MDMR 2008c). In a similar effort to aid coastal communities, the Maine State Planning Office established The Maine Coastal Program (MCP).  MCP works with local leaders and citizens to provide resources and support for creating sustainable working waterfront communities (MSPO 2006).

Other government agencies, such as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, are also responsible for developing and implementing land-based policies pertaining to development and pollution that help maintain the health of the fisheries (MDEP 2005).  Other government agencies, including the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission, focus on species specific initiatives that "protect, conserve, restore, manage, and enhance ... habitat" (MASC 2008).


Since its inception in 1954, the Maine Lobstermen's Association (MLA) has represented the lobster industry and advocated for lobstermen (MLA 2007).  The association attempts to balance the economic concerns of fishermen and industry stakeholders with the need for conserving marine resources.  As the largest commercial fishing association, serving nearly 1,200 lobstermen, MLA is at the forefront of marine policy discussions in Maine.

In 1991, in response to a request by the Maine lobster industry, the State created the Maine Lobster Promotion Council (MLPC 2005).  MLPC participants include harvesters, distributers, and community members from the three coastal regions.  MLPC is funded by the revenue from lobster license fees and seeks to promote and market Maine lobsters on the state, regional, national, and international levels by using the expertise of the Maine lobster industry. These efforts are meant to highlight the quality, culture and character of Maine's lobster fishery. 

Established in 2007, the Midcoast Fishermen Association hopes to involve the public in marine conservation by linking local fishermen with local consumers to promote the cultural and economic value of marine fishing in Maine.  It also collaborates with regulatory parties that manage the fishery to improve the ecological and financial stability of the fishery (Midcoast Fishermen's Association 2007).  

The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), a national non-profit representing the interests of recreational saltwater anglers, has actively influenced coastal marine management on a local, state, and national level since 1984.  CCA's Maine chapter has contributed to the management of Maine's marine resources by successfully working to ban gill nets and purse seines in the Presumpscot River, and by using its legal defense fund to enforce by-catch and net bans (CCA 2008).  The organization also advocates for improved waterfront access for recreational anglers.  The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) is a non-profit organization that encourages the conservation of wildlife.  By representing anglers, it allows members to play a role in important environmental issues (SAM 2008). 

The Maine Aquaculture Association (MAA), the nation's first statewide aquaculture trade association, was established in 1976.  MAA advocates for continuing Maine's tradition of working waterfront communities and endorses legislation that maintains a clean and healthy marine environment capable of sustaining both wild and cultivated fish populations.  To attain those ends, it created the Maine Aquaculture Association Code of Conduct, which outlines 14 guidelines for responsible aquaculture in Maine (MAA 2006).  

The vitality of fisheries affects other marine related business, such as boat yards, boat builders, marinas, and marine wholesalers; therefore, organizations such as Maine Marine Trades Association (MMTA) are interested in preserving the marine environment as a means of protecting marine Boat Yards and Marinas Program.  Under this program, industries, environmental groups, and state and federal governments work together to implement management plans for boatyards and marinas that exceed environmental compliance standards (MMTA 2007). 

Other land-based industries, namely blueberry harvesters in Washington County and paper mills throughout the state, are concerned with effluent and water pollution regulations for the state's rivers.  These regulations are meant to protect anadromous fish species, and reduce the amount of pollution that is carried downstream and flow into the marine resources.  They can also have serious economic implications for land-based industries and do not always correspond with their interests. 

Environmental Organizations and Non-Profit Agencies

International environmental non-profit organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are committed to maintaining global fishery resources.  MSC, through its work with fisheries, scientists, conservation groups, seafood companies, and the public has developed a fishery certification program that recognizes and rewards sustainable fishing practices by using a seafood eco-label that allows consumers to make environmentally friendly choices when purchasing seafood (MSC 2008).

Environmental and non-profit organizations have a range of interests and approach the challenges facing Maine's fisheries in a variety of ways. Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), for example, emphasizes the importance of using an area-based fisheries management approach to invoke long-term accountability. They believe that making local fishermen responsible for the management of the fishery will stop overfishing and re-establish economically and ecologically critical fish stocks (CLF 2006).

Coastal Enterprises, INC. (CEI), a non-profit economic development organization, investigates the economic stability of coastal fishing communities using its multifaceted approach of targeting the economy, equity, and environment.  It also provides financial support, in the form of low-interest loans, for marine waterfront operations and maintenance, and facilitates interactions between fishermen and banks (CEI 2008).  

Coastal Communities

The Island Institute is committed to supporting Maine's resource-based economy by facilitating communication between conservationists and fishing communities.  By identifying stakeholders' common interests, the Island Institute is able to help create a balance between coastal culture and the marine environment (Island Institute 2008). The Island Institute creates models and makes recommendations that provide functional solutions the sustainable year-round operation of coastal marine-based communities.  Island Institute also supports the efforts of Maine's Working Waterfront Coalition, a group that is committed to "supporting and enhancing Maine's working waterfront through policy, planning, investment, and education" (MDMR 2008c).

Maine Sea Grant aims to protect the marine environment and coastal communities while also providing a quality experience for tourists.  Maine Sea Grant utilizes outreach forums, workshops, and publications to empower individuals and communities to address coastal issues.  In an effort to ensure that marine resources and marine communities can thrive and attract tourism, Maine Sea Grant encourages communities, government, and industry to coordinate their common interests (Maine Sea Grant 2006a).  


To assess the state of Maine's marine fisheries and the communities that depend on this natural resource, we conducted a literature search.  This allowed us to identify important laws, regulations, court cases, and stakeholders that are associated with the state of the resource and its management.  We also collected raw data and performed data analysis and GIS analysis to draw conclusions about the state of the fisheries, the industry, and the communities that both strongly affect them and are affected by them.

For this analysis Maine's coastal counties are divided into three regions.  The Southern consists of York and Cumberland counties; Mid-Coast includes Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, and Waldo counties; and Downeast is made up of Hancock and Washington counties (Figure 3.1).  The counties and regions are also associated with the adjacent lobster management zones.  All monetary data were adjusted to 2007 dollars to account for inflation.  Using 2007 as a base year, the inflation index for 2007 was divided by each year's consumer price index (CPI), from 1950 to 2006, creating a constant multiplier for each year (BLS 2008, Koomey 2008).  This multiplier was then used to adjust the value to 2007 dollars. 

Figure 3.1 Maine's coastal counties, classified into three regions: Southern, Mid-Coast and Downeast. Lobster management zones along the coast are associated with the adjacent counties and region. Southern region corresponds to zones G and F, Mid-Coast is associated with E and D, and the Downeast zones include C, B, and A (MDMR 2006, MEGIS 2008).

It is difficult to access statewide data on fishery populations for species other than lobster.  This lack of information directed our focus to the state of the fishing industries instead of the stability of species' populations.   

We gathered data on historic and current fish harvest both by pound and value for a variety of species in Maine.  Species importance was determined by compiling NMFS fishery data by species for Maine in 1975 and 2007.  We chose 1975 to represent the time period before the Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1976 was implemented.  This allows us to judge what effects the implementation of the Act had on the state's fishing industries.  From these data, we were able to narrow the scope of our study further to highlight only those fisheries that have a large impact on Maine's economy based on value.  Thus the majority of our study is centered on groundfish , lobster, and Atlantic salmon--fisheries that are highly valued and exploited for human consumption.  

We examined the state of the fishing industry from three perspectives: harvest by pound and value; harvest efficiency and effort; and geographic distribution of harvest.  Using data from NMFS and MDMR, we charted the variations in time of harvest from 1950 to 2007.  

The number of traps used for lobster harvest provides an evaluation of harvest effort and regulation effectiveness.  Fishing effort, a measure of how much time and resources are expended on fisheries harvest, is compared to harvest trends.  To normalize the number of traps MDMR observed on boats from 1966 to 2007, we divided the number of traps set by the number of boats studied.

Lobster harvest efficiency is measured as the amount of lobster harvested, in pounds, per boat hour.  A boat hour is defined by MDMR as an hour spent on water engaged in lobster harvest activities (Wilson 2008).  A higher efficiency value indicates that fewer boat hours were expended to capture more pounds of lobster.  

The goal in creating a geographic representation of lobster harvest is to demonstrate the places in the state that are most important to the lobster industry.  By displaying this information for three time periods, we hope to demonstrate change in distribution that may have occurred between 1967 and 2007.  The value of harvest data for 1967, 1987, and 2007 for each lobster zone was placed on a map of coastal Maine.  Changes during the time period are represented by changes in color. 

An interview was conducted with Steve Burns who has worked as a lobsterman on Mount Desert Island for 39 years.  His comments provide a perspective on lobstermen's  opinions of changes in the management of the fishery, the industry, and stability over time. 

We use the number of commercial fishing boats and the number of self-employed fishermen in the fishing industry, by county, to represent the geographic distribution of the commercial fishing industry (US Census Bureau 2008).  Data for self-employed fishermen account for nearly 60% of the estimated 10,300 commercial harvesters in the state and are treated as a sample that represents the industry.  From this sample, we extrapolate the distribution of commercial fishing employment and receipts, which are the income reported on self-employed commercial fishermen's tax returns.  To account for variation in the size of the counties and towns, data were normalized to represent the density of fishermen and commercial fishing boats per mile of coastline, while the average annual income by county was used to normalize income data.

For our assessment of communities' dependence on commercial fishing, data pertaining to commercial fishing access and income were collected.  This data includes the number of access points that support commercial fishing activities and the number of critical access points that support essential commercial fishing infrastructure; without the services provided by critical access points local communities would likely suffer economic hardship.

We ranked critical access as a percent of commercial fishing access using a scale of one to five; one and five represent the most and least critical access, respectively (1=81-100%, 2=61-81%, 3=41-60%, 4=21-40%, 5=0-20%).  We also ranked median household income on a scale of one to four, one and four represent the lowest and highest median income, respectively (1= $20,000-30,000, 2= 30,001-40,000, 3=40,001-50,000, 4=50,001-70,000).  Using these variables we created a commercial fishing dependence index.  The rank for each town's income was multiplied by its critical access rank to produce a range from 1-20; one represents towns with the greatest dependence on commercial fishing and 20 is assigned to towns that are the least dependent on commercial fishing.

Age data for lobstermen by license class were used to evaluate the age structure within Maine's lobster industry.  The age categories considered include students under the age of 23, apprentices under the age of 18, and Class I lobstermen under 18 years-old, between the ages of 18 and 70, and older than 70 years-old.  For our discussions we classify young lobstermen as Apprentices, Students, and those younger than 18 years-old who hold Class I licenses.

To estimate the potential for point source discharges to affect anadromous fish habitats, we used ArcGIS to measure the distance of all MPDES permits and overboard discharge permits from rivers flowing into vulnerable waters.  Two river sets were created using GIS layers from the Maine Office of GIS.  The first river layer used known river outlets in which anadromous fish have been observed migrating.  Using these outlets as a starting point, a river system was created to include all rivers flowing into these sites.  A second Atlantic salmon-specific river layer was created by using known inland Atlantic salmon spawning and rearing grounds, and moving upstream to create a river layer including all rivers flowing into these grounds (see Figure 3.2). 

Figure 3.2 Known Atlantic salmon spawning habitat, rivers flowing into salmon habitat, and rivers flowing into anadromous fish habitat.  Major rivers historically containing Atlantic salmon are labeled (MEGIS 2008).
Using a GIS proximity buffer, all MPDES permitted discharge sites as well as all overboard discharge permitted sites were assessed with respect to their relative distances from either river set.  Permit sites were grouped into one of two categories: within 100m of anadromous fish or Atlantic salmon habitat, or more than 100m away from such habitats.  The decision to use a 100m buffer was largely based upon a conservative estimate of the maximum distance effluent may be able to travel through soils to a waterway.   Substantial research has been done on the appropriate riparian buffers to be utilized in agricultural and forestry practices in Maine. While the width of these river bank buffers depends upon the type of pollutants discharges and terrestrial factors such as soil type, exposure, and slope, most studies recommend a buffer of 100m or less (Ashcraft 2008, Goodman 2008, Haberstock et al. 2000).  To assess the impact of Atlantic salmon aquaculture as a pollution source, aquaculture records from MDMR were reviewed, and a GIS layer of all active Atlantic salmon aquaculture from MDMR was used to plot the size and exact location of all aquaculture net pens in the state of Maine .  These sites were then visually assessed with respect to their proximities to vulnerable Atlantic salmon habitat. 

State of the Topic

Fishery Stock and Harvest Trends

Over the past two centuries, Maine's fishing industries have experienced cycles of abundance, overharvesting, and collapse (ASMFC 2005).  As one species dies out or loses demand in consumer markets, a new and abundant fishery replaces it.  The continuous harvest of marine resources resulted in a dependence on and connection to Maine's coast.
In Maine, as elsewhere, extraction of an open access resource, without adequately strict and enforceable regulations, leads to the decimation of popular fisheries that are overexploited. The collapse of Atlantic cod in the 1980s is the most infamous fisheries collapse in US history. Atlantic cod harvests on Mount Desert Island alone were once greater than the total 2007 catch for all of New England (Clark 2008).  Other groundfish species, like flounder, haddock, and pollock, were also once plentiful in Maine waters; for centuries these species were some of the most important for all of New England (CGER 1998). In the early 1960s, Soviet and other international vessels began to aggressively harvest groundfish populations in New England (ASMFC 2005).  Attempts to regulate cod harvest did little to slow the inevitable harvest collapse.
This pattern of collapse is not unique to cod; following the cod collapse, fishermen transitioned to sea urchin, a crustacean that was not harvested because it was not demanded in US consumer markets.  In the 1980s, concurrent with the cod collapse, fishermen shifted to urchin harvest to capitalize on foreign demands. From 1984 to 1991, the price per pound of sea urchin increased from $0.08 to $0.84, a 90% increase (Clark 2008).  By the late-1990s, Maine's urchin population had reached near extinction.
In contrast to the unsustainable harvests of many Maine's marine fisheries, lobster is known worldwide for its quality, abundance, and long-term management.  Lobstermen are committed to the continued profitability of their industry and are proactive in protecting the resource.  As Steve Burns, a lobsterman of 39 years describes, Maine lobstermen "were green before green was there" (Burns 2008).
As early as the late nineteenth century, lobstermen informally recognized that harvesting pregnant or young lobster hurt the resource population by making it difficult for stocks to regenerate (MDMR 2006).  Although official lobster regulation did not exist until the 1940s, early efforts to harvest lobster sustainably required that individuals in the industry cooperate and adhere to regulations, even those unrecognized by law.  This early and unprecedented collaboration resulted in what is historically a profitable and sustainable industry.  
The fierce pride that lobstermen take in their industry resulted in unique management schemes.  In the 1970s and 1980s, the collaborative management was exclusive for "native" participants (Acheson 1988).  Men who had been in the industry for generations banded together along regional lines to form "lobster gangs" that prohibited newcomers from fishing.  They cut trap lines and stole catch to intimidate those who were seeking to get rich quick from what they viewed as a profitable industry.  Regulations enacted in the late 1990s recognized the need for regionally-based management that limited entry into the industry.  Trap limits, management zones, and the apprentice program are all regulations that mirrored the actions that the lobstermen themselves had undertaken.
This section provides data on historic and current trends in harvest of Maine's fisheries with emphasis on the lobster industry. By tracing changes in lobster harvest effort and efficiency, we explain why these trends have occurred. Using this information, we describe what impact new regulations, ecosystem change, and economic recession may have on lobster harvest and value.

Total Fisheries Harvest

From 1950 to 2007, total value of fisheries in Maine increased over 150% (Figure 3.3).  For the first 20 years, the industry value remained relatively stable, but over the last 30 years, it experienced inconsistent growth.  During this period, total value of New England's fisheries increased 75.5% (Figure 3.4).

 Figure 3.3 Total annual fisheries harvest (pounds) and real value (in 2007 dollars) of all species in Maine from 1950 to 2007 (NMFS 2008).  

Figure 3.4 Total annual fisheries harvest (pounds) and real value (in 2007 dollars) of all species in New England from 1950 to 2007. Excludes Maine harvest results (NMFS 2008).

From 1950 to 1971, fish catch by weight decreased 60%.  Although there has been a 17% growth in fish harvested in the past 35 years, the amount harvested today is lower than in 1950.  Since 1950, there has been a 51% decline in the total amount of fisheries harvested (Figure 3. 3).  Total amount harvested in New England decreased 42.5% (Figure 3.4).
In 1973 value of fisheries exceeded $1 per pound for the first time and also marks the lowest harvest up to that time.  For the past forty years, the value of the commercial fisheries was greater than the amount harvested, which means that fish are worth over $1 per pound on average.  New England's commercial fishing trends are similar to Maine, but the changes have been less extreme.  As in Maine, it was not until the early 1970s that the value of the fishing industry exceeded the harvested amount.  Changes in the value and amount harvested of commercial fisheries may be linked to changes in cost of fishing, consumer values, or fishery stocks.  

Harvest by Species

In 1975 Maine's lobster industry represented 57% of all commercial fisheries by value but only 12.3% of amount harvested; lobster was the state's most important fishery by value and fourth most important species by weight (Table 3.2).  At $6.23 per pound, lobster was the second most profitable species following sea scallop.  Crustaceans were the most important group of marine organisms to the fishing industry; clam, sea scallop, and shrimp, in addition to lobster, were four of the five most valuable fishery species.  

Table 3.2 Maine fisheries species ranked by 1975 real value (in 2007 dollars); total harvest pounds are also shown (NMFS 2008).

In New England in 1975, lobster, cod, and clam ranked as top five species by value; however, crustaceans were secondary in importance to groundfish.  Lobster was the second most valuable species following flounder, which is a groundfish (Table 3.3).  Groundfish species, which include flounder, Atlantic cod, haddock, and pollock, accounted for 45% of regional harvest values.  In Maine, groundfish were only 3.4% of total value.  

Table 3.3 New England fisheries species ranked by 1975 real value (in 2007 dollars); total harvest pounds are also shown. Results exclude Maine fisheries harvest (NMFS 2008).
Atlantic cod populations collapsed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  This indicates that Maine groundfish populations collapsed prior to the rest of New England's.  While New England continued to harvest its traditional fishery species, Maine sought alternatives to the decimated groundfish populations; crustaceans provided this substitute.
In 2007 lobster remained Maine's most valuable species; however, it increased to 79% of Maine's fishery value and 34.5% of the harvested pounds (Table 3.4).  Lobster was worth $4.45, a 29% decrease from the 1975 price.  In New England, lobster had become the most important species, although 71% of regional lobster value was from Maine (Table 3.5).  Groundfish continued to have a presence within the top ten most important species, but flounder, cod, and haddock combined were only 11% of total harvest value.  

Table 3.4 Maine fisheries species ranked by 2007 value; total harvest pounds are also shown (NMFS 2008).

Table 3.5 New England fisheries species ranked by 2007 value; total harvest pounds are also shown. Results exclude Maine fisheries harvest (NMFS 2008).

Although clam and shrimp remain important species to Maine's fishing industry in 2007, low value, high mass species, like herring, and export species, such as sandworms, gained importance.   Sandworms sold for $5.42 per pound, the highest of any of the top ten species.  The same trend appeared in New England; export species like oyster, shark, and goosefish both increased in value and amount harvested from 1975.  Eastern oyster was the most valued species in New England at $21.30 per pound.  Herring was 20% of the amount harvested of New England fishery species but over 40% of the harvested amount in Maine.  It valued less than $0.12 per pound in New England.  
For at least six decades, lobster has been the most valuable and harvested fishery in the Gulf of Maine (Table 3.2 and Table 3.3).  Although groundfish may have once been important commercial species, groundfish stock collapse reaffirmed the dominance of lobster in both Maine's and regional commercial fishing industries.  For this reason, trends in lobster harvest help understand changes in practices throughout the state.

Lobster Harvest

From 1950 until 1988, the lobster industry remained relatively stable.  The amount harvested during that time period experienced an 18% growth, although this number does not reflect year-to-year variation (Figure 3.5).  The average annual lobster harvest for that time period remained around 20.4 million pounds.  

Figure 3.5 Annual harvest of lobster in Maine by real value (in 2007 dollars) and total catch (pounds) from 1950 to 2007 (NMFS 2008). 
In 1989, the lobster industry experienced a striking increase in both amount harvested and industry value.  In the last 20 years, harvested amount increased 150%.  If 2006 and 2007 are excluded because they are years of recession, the change increases to 200%.   During the past 20 years, industry value increased 160%.  At its peak in 2005, the industry was valued at over $260 million.  These data indicate that, despite minor slumps, the Maine lobster industry has increased in both value and amount harvested since 1950.

In New England, lobster harvest increased over time, but the industry's peak harvest in 1999 was only an 87% increase from 1950; this is significantly less dramatic than the growth experienced in Maine (Figure 3.6).   A decline in lobster harvest in the late 1990s meant that the industry experienced 61% total growth from 1950 to 2007.

Figure 3.6 Annual harvest of lobster in New England by real value (in 2007 dollars) and total catch (pounds) from 1950 to 2007. Maine lobster harvest is excluded from this figure (NMFS 2008).

We calculated the total lobster harvest value for all seven lobster zones during three years: 1967, 1987, and 2007.  For each of these years, Zone D had the highest total lobster harvest value; Zones B and C were second in relative importance; and Zone G consistently had the lowest harvest value (Figure 3.7).  

Figure 3.7 Annual harvest of lobster by total real value (in 2007 dollars) for the years 1967, 1987, and 2007. Data are divided by lobster management zone to show changes in harvest by location over time (Wilson 2008).      
The other zones were more variable.  Zone F, which includes the greater Portland area, was the third and second most important zone in 1967 and 1987, respectively.  By 2007, it was ranked fourth, having been surpassed by Zone A, the northernmost lobster zone.  This shift of Zone A represents the greatest relative change of any lobster zone.  
In general, this figure displays the lobster industry shifting northward.   The southern part of the state was the most important by value in 1967.  In 2007 the zones with the highest value were from the Mid-coast and Downeast regions.  

Lobster Harvest Effort and Efficiency

The number of lobster traps per boat increased 115% between 1966 and 2007 (Figure 3.8).   For the first 30 years, the increase was relatively steady, rising by an average 3.14% annually.  During the last 8 years, traps per boat stabilized, reaching an average annual decrease of 1%.  By 2007, lobster boats average 424 traps.

Figure 3.8 Statewide average of the number of lobster traps set per boat from 1966 to 2007 (MDMR 2008d). 
The leveling off of the average number of traps per boasts corresponds with the late 1990's legislation to strengthen enforcement of trap limits and limit entry into the lobster industry.  These data signify that the legislation has thus far been successful in controlling overharvesting by restricting harvest practices; lobster harvest effort has stabilized if traps are considered the key indicator.
Traps alone do not dictate changes in harvest and effort patterns.  From 1988 to 1992, there was a 17% increase in harvest by weight.  During that same time, however, traps remained stable at an average of 2 million traps per year.  In fact, 41 fewer traps were set in 1992 than 1988 (ASMFC 2005).
From 1966 to 2007, every region in Maine increased lobster harvest efficiency.  During 1976, however, all three region's efficiencies were reduced to 10 pounds per boat hour, the lowest value in the sixty years studied (Figure 3.9). A second decrease in efficiency occurred for all zones in 1985, which matches the 10-year harvest low around that time.  From 2002 to 2004, Maine experienced a peak in harvest efficiency; the highest pounds harvested occurred simultaneous during the same time.

Figure 3.9 Lobster harvest efficiency. Represents total lobster pounds harvested over boat hours by region and state average from 1966 to 2007. The year shown in the x-axis is representative of a three-year average (Wilson 2008).
In 1967, the Southern region of the state had the highest efficiency, while Downeast was below the state average.  The Southern region remained the most efficient until 1994, at which time both the Mid-Coast and Downeast regions surpassed it.  Since that time, the Mid-Coast region has been the most efficient, followed closely by Downeast.  The Southern region is now below the state average.  
From 1966 to 2007, the 154% increase in efficiency in the Downeast region was the greatest change that occurred.  The Mid Coast region, which has always been above the state average, experienced a 102% increase in efficiency.  This is consistent with the state average change, recorded as 106%.  Meanwhile, the Southern region has only experienced 70% growth in efficiency.  This is consistent with our observation that the Downeast region has shifted its harvest patterns more significantly other regions.  The South is now trailing in profitability.


Total Harvest

Our evidence suggests that, as a whole, Maine's fisheries are economically viable.  Although the past 15 years of harvest have shown fewer harvested pounds than earlier decades, total catch has remained stable during recent years.  The real value of Maine's fisheries continues to increase, even as fishery harvests decline (Figure 3. 3).  

The decline in both harvest and value during 2006 and 2007 does not indicate that the industry as a whole is facing a long-term downturn in profitability, nor does it suggest that fisheries are at risk of collapse. Instead, it seems consistent with short term declines that have occurred throughout the sixty year study.  With the exception of the lobster industry, Maine's fisheries have been cyclical in their rise to prominence in commercial marine goods markets.  This may be due to changed consumer preferences, changes in stock, or imposed regulations.  
Maine's fishing industry remains important regionally and appears to be in better health than the rest of New England.  In 1950, Maine accounted for 24% of the total value of New England fisheries; in 2007 it was worth 35%.  This indicates that Maine is continuing its tradition of predominance in regional commercial fisheries.  Other states maybe shifting away from fishing in favor of stable land-based industries, or, alternatively, fish stocks may already be depleted.
Groundfish industries remain unstable.  Although commercial harvests of these species persists, we do not see indicators that the population has regenerated to secure levels in any species (CGER 1998).  In 2007 the species were less economically important in both Maine and New England than they were in 1975.   The MSA, enacted in 1976 in response to declining groundfish populations, has not been successful in meeting its goal of stabilizing declining fish populations.  Although regulations like closing fishing ground and catch quotas have been applied to the populations most in danger, namely the Atlantic cod, significant returns are not yet occurring.  

Lobster Harvest

It is expected that lobster will continue to be the most profitable and harvested species in both the state and New England.  An ASMFC report states that in 2005 Maine's lobster abundance was above the established threshold of sustainability, while fishing mortality is below the target threshold (ASMFC 2005).  This implies that the lobster fishery is being harvested within established scientific norms for long-term population maintenance.  

Lobstermen also believe that their fishery is in good health.  As Burns reports, there is a large population of juvenile and egg-bearing individuals in Downeast waters.  He claims that if a trap is raised with fifteen lobsters, ten will be released due to size regulations or v-notching (Burns 2008). It is likely that lobstermen will willingly take up management recommendations that encourage the proliferation of Maine's lobster populations because they are highly invested in the continued sustainability of the industry.  

Lobster Harvest Effort and Efficiency

During the last 20 years, the value of the lobster industry has tripled despite a 29% decline in prices from 1975 (Figure 3.7).  This indicates that an increase in amount of lobster harvested is substituting for profit loss due to the decreased dollar per pound in market value.  A number of changes in lobster harvest efficiency and effort explain how the value increase took place, including improved technology, stricter harvest regulations, and ecosystem change.

Increases in harvest efficiency over the past fifteen years may reflect improvements in technology (Figure 3.9).  Lobster regulations limiting the number of traps allowed per boat require lobstermen to ensure that they capture the greatest number of legal lobsters per outing.  Traps are streamlined to capture as many legal lobster as possible while decreasing fishing mortality.  In this way lobstermen maximize their profitability while minimizing their impact on the lobster stock.  

Until the mid-1980s, lobstermen used wooden lobster traps; the advent of wire traps created a system that allowed lobstermen to catch more lobster in fewer trips, which is reflected in our data on lobster harvest (Figure 3.5).  In 1988, the first spike in lobster harvest appeared after decades of stability; this date corresponds to the initial use of wire traps (MDMR 2006).  These traps are more durable than wooden predecessors, which both decreases replacement costs to lobstermen and is more capable of preventing legal lobster form escaping.  The escape vents allow undersized lobsters to free themselves, resulting in lower mortality rates.  

Additionally, increased efficiency may be linked to the geographic shift of Maine's lobster industry to the north.  As climate change affects global ocean temperatures and currents, there is evidence that lobster populations are migrating north to remain within cool temperatures (UOCS 2007).  These theories predict that Maine's lobster industry will gain importance on a regional and national scale as the populations of lobster from other states continues to decline.  The expected returned market demand for lobster and diminishing of regional competition suggest that the industry will stabilize in the long-term.  

Within Maine, this may also explain why Southern lobster zones that were once the state's most profitable have now fallen in both value and harvest compared to Downeast zones.  Zone A was the state's second least valuable zone in 1967 and 1987; by 2007, it ranked third.  Zone E, in southern Maine, on the other hand, was valued near the state average for 1967 and 1987; in 2007, its value was 44% less than the statewide average.  While the industry increased profits during the past twenty years, it was the Downeast region that profited most.  The Southern region seems to be declining in relative statewide importance.  It is feasible that that lobster populations in the south have moved north, resulting in fewer lobster available for regional lobstermen.  

This geographic shift may also be linked to socioeconomic factors unrelated to lobster populations themselves.  With the Portland area's urban growth in the past decade, there has been some shift away from traditional fishing in favor of land-based industries (Acheson et al. 2000).

Policy Implications

It costs a lobsterman at least $200 per day to fish (MLPC 2005).  The economic recession of 2008 nearly eliminated profitability for lobstermen due to high input cost and low market prices, but harvest effort has not decreased.   Lobstermen make the majority of their income from September to November because lobster are close to shore (MDMR 2008).   When lobsters move to deeper waters in winter, cost of fishing increases but fewer are harvested.  For this reason, it is unrealistic for lobstermen to stop harvesting due to declined profits.  As Burns describes, "We have no choice.  We have to go...the lobsters won't wait around for prices to go back up" (Burns 2008).

In 2008, Maine should expect the amount of lobster harvested to remain fairly consistent with years past; however; the 60% decline in prices within months will cause the value of the industry to fall, even as harvest remains stable.  The recent two-year decline in lobster harvest and value is not expected to continue; instead, the industry will regain its tradition of stable or increasing harvests when global markets are revitalized.

In addition to economic difficulties, as of April 2009, Maine lobstermen will need to transition from floating to sinking trap lines.  Scientists argue that ropes trap Right whales, resulting in mortality.  This transition will require high input costs to lobstermen (Burns 2008).  The thicker rope is heavier than floating lines and easily gets wrapped around the rocky ocean floor, causing the line to break.  When this occurs, lobstermen lose both the trap and the permitted tag on the trap.  Even more detrimental to the lobster population is the creation of "ghost traps"-- traps that sit on the bottom of the ocean and continue to fish.  Although trap construction requires biodegradability and escape vents, it is expected that lobster mortality will increase (Ellsworth American 2008).  

Most frustrating to lobstermen is the feeling that there is no scientific evidence to support claims that whales are being harmed by the placement of floating lines.  For them, the costs incurred by the new regulation are of greater importance to whale conservation (Cushman 1997).  During a time when the lobster industry is facing such great hardships, there is bitterness that marine ecosystem conservation, something they too have supported for decades, is now being prioritized over their well-being.  

In late October 2008, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified the lobster fishery as sustainable, leaving lobstermen hopeful that the industry would regain its value and appeal in world markets.  This certification assures consumers that the lobster they purchase was harvested in a way that ensures the long-term survival of the species (MSC 2008).  Certification may stabilize prices by affixing a value to the good that is sought by consumers who want to minimize their environmental impact.  This seal is especially appealing to European markets and organic food distributors nationwide.  No other lobster industries in the region (including Canada) are certified as sustainable, so Maine now has a majority market share of the product (Rappaport 2008a).  
Maine set a lofty goal for itself in aiming to certify all economic fisheries as sustainable by MSC in 2011.  This requires expansive legislation, and industry support.  If successful, Maine would have the most comprehensive certification of fisheries in the nation.  It is a shift that could ensure the long-term stability of Maine fisheries as a whole and give security to coastal communities that are used to unpredictable species population cycles.

The federal government has an opportunity to more proactively and progressively regulate fisheries.  Recent efforts to update the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act failed, but the Bill does provide an outline of what ocean policy President Obama should encourage.  It aimed to end overfishing by 2011 through the use of annual catch limits and accountability measures, increases market-based fishery management, and calls for international cooperation on fisheries management (NOAA Fisheries Service 2008b, 109th Congress 2nd Session S.2012).  

The new policies would distribute "catch shares" to fishermen in the form of quotas (Babbitt and Greenwood 2008).  Annual Catch Limits quantify the limit of sustainable harvesting for each managed fishery.  No more than 20% to 30% of a stock should be harvested annually in order to ensure long-term abundance (Anderson 2007).  A second improvement would shift from individual quotas to community-based distribution.  Limited Access Privilege Programs promote broader use of market-based fishery management alternatives by distributing federal permits to harvest a quantity of fish.   The sum of the permitted harvests represents the Annual Total Catch, an established level beneath the maximum sustainable yield.  

These changes would make the US one of the world's most progressive nations in sustainable fisheries management.  As described earlier, the lobster industry is an exception to regulation norms.  Catch shares and the community-based programs that have been suggested to the government are policies that are already in place to protect lobster.  Other fisheries require the same attention in order to achieve long-term sustainability.  

Coastal Fishing Communities and the Commercial Fishing Industry

Along Maine's coast there are 1,555 points of waterfront access, 1,045 of which are considered working-waterfronts that support water-dependent industry.  Of the working waterfronts, 85% are used for commercial fishing.  These working access points are spread throughout a number of towns, but account for only 20 miles, less than 1%, of the coastline.  Recreational access points are most common, but commercial fishing follows close behind as the second most common type of waterfront access (Island Institute 2007).

Maintaining waterfront access for the commercial fishing industry is an issue of vital importance, because the remaining 20 miles of working waterfront support nearly 10,300 harvesters, provide additional 26,000 fishing related jobs, and sustain land-based businesses such as processors, distributors, boat makers, and restaurants (CEI 2008, Island Institute 2007, MSPO 2006). Revenue from the fishing industry includes, but is not limited to, the value of fish harvests, fishing expenditures, the salaries paid to those employed by the fishing industry, and the revenue from the state's costal tourism industry (Roach et al. 1996).  As a result, the state's coastal communities have strong generational histories of extractive harvesting and ties to marine resources that have given rise to a fishing culture unique to Maine.

The State of Maine's Environment 2007 report indicates that property values along the coast have increased because "waterfront property has become more desirable in Maine" (Darling et al. 2007).  For property owners, including fishermen, rising property values also mean increases in property taxes and the opportunity costs of owning coastal property.  Maine's Natural Resource-based Industries Indicators of Health Report (2004) acknowledges that the financial barriers to owning waterfront property may be particularly problematic for fishing communities because they could prevent fishermen from owning enough waterfront property to sustain their commercial fishing operations.  Given that 75% of commercial fishing access in Maine is owned privately, the threat of losing commercial fishing access is great.  The loss of commercial fishing access would undoubtedly have significant implications for the commercial fishing industry, because it would restrict commercial fishing activity and force fishermen who are unable to bear rising property costs out of the industry (Freshly and Lachance 2004).  

While rising property values will directly affect fishermen, the effects will also resonate in Maine's coastal and state economy.  Even modest estimates from the Chief Economist for the National Ocean Economics Project, suggest that the conversion of working waterfronts to residential developments could cost the state's economy $15 million or more a year (Colgan 2004).  Recognizing the economic importance of maintaining waterfront access, coastal communities and organizations throughout the state have begun to advocate for the protection of commercial fishing access.  Stakeholders hope to protect commercial fishing access, and the productivity, profitability and culture of Maine's fishing industry from rising property values by using mechanisms such as coastal zoning. 

Maintaining Maine's commercial fishing access will be an ongoing challenge that will require local and community-based involvement and long-term solutions.  Understanding the distribution and characteristics of commercial fishing access and the fishing communities that depend on it, however, will allow for the development of efficient and effective conservation plans that target areas where fishing access is most valuable and threatened. 

Variations in the economy, including rising fishing costs and the sudden decrease in lobster prices in 2008, remind state and industry officials that despite maintaining sustainably managed fisheries, Maine's fishing industry is not immune to changes in the economy.  Understanding the demographic characteristics of fishing communities and the commercial fishing industry will allow fishery managers to mitigate or avoid the effects of future social and economic changes.  Likewise, understanding the geographic distribution of communities' dependence on commercial fishing will allow the industry to respond more promptly and effectively to ecological and environmental changes. 

In order to assess Maine's coastal fishing communities and the commercial fishing industry we identify several key demographic characteristics, including the income communities receive from commercial fishing, the number of individuals employed by the commercial fishing industry, and the age of harvesters in the lobster industry.  We also account for other important characteristics, including the geographic distribution of commercial fishing access and coastal communities' dependence on commercial fishing.  Finally, we discuss the implications of the current state of fishing communities and the fishing industry in Maine. 

State of Commercial Fishing Communities


The commercial fishing dependence index (Figure 3.10) shows that moving from Southern Maine toward the Downeast region, the reliance on commercial fishing increases.  Of the coastal towns with the highest dependence (Index value 1-2), 66% do not have coastal zoning that protects water-based activity.

Figure 3.10 An index of commercial fishing dependence, in which the index value of each town represents the ranked median household income from 1999 multiplied by the ranked critical commercial fishing access.  A value of one indicates communities with the highest dependence while 20 represents the lowest dependence (Island Institute 2007, MSPO 2008, MEGIS 2008).

Communities in Downeast Maine are most dependent on commercial fishing and have the most critical commercial access; however, they have the lowest density of self-employed fishermen and boats per mile of coastline (Figure 3.11).  Counties that support the most commercial fishing jobs and have the least critical commercial fishing access are in Mid-Coast and Southern Maine. 

Figure 3.11 Percent of commercial fishing access that is critical for commercial fishing (A) (Island Institute 2007).  Commercial fishing access points provide services that support commercial fishing activities while critical commercial fishing access points support infrastructure that is essential to commercial fishing.  Without access to critical access points local communities would suffer hardship.  Number of self-employed commercial fishermen in 2006 and commercial fishing boats in 2007 (B) (Wilson 2008, US Census Bureau 2008).  Self-employed fishermen have no paid employees and are often classified as very small unincorporated businesses.

Knox County has the highest percent of critical access points, the greatest number of self-employed fishermen, the most boats per mile of coast, and the highest average income from commercial fishing (Figure 3.11 and Figure 3.12). This indicates that maintaining commercial fishing access and commercial fishing activity is essential for the livelihood of coastal communities in Knox County. 


The ports in Maine that land the most fish, by weight, include Portland, Rockland, Stonington, and Jonesport, which are located in Cumberland, Knox, Hancock, and Washington counties, respectively (NOAA Fisheries Service 2008c).  Between 1997 and 2007, self-employed fishermen in Knox, Cumberland, and Hancock also recorded the highest average annual income, earning consistently above the $50,000 annual state average (Figure 3.12).  Despite recording the most pounds of fish and highest income, average annual income in Knox and Cumberland has steadily declined since 2000.  Average income in other counties such as Sagadahoc, Hancock, and Washington has continually increased during this time, while the average receipts for York and Waldo exhibit the most volatility. 

Figure 3.12 Average receipts for self-employed fishermen by county for 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006 for counties with steady increases (A), gradual decreases (B), and volatile changes (C) in the amount of receipts recieved.  Receipts represent the sales, commissions and income for self-employed fishermen as reported on annual business tax returns (US Census Bureau 2008).

Lobster Licenses

The number of commercial lobster licenses, which include Student, Apprentice, and Class I, II, and III licenses, has decreased 4% between 1997 and 2007; however, the total number of Class I-III lobster licenses declined at nearly three times that rate (Figure 3.13 and Figure 3.14).  This decrease was not uniform across the classes.  The number of Class I licenses was cut in half, while Class II increased 25% and Class III nearly tripled (MDMR 2008d).  For every increase in the number of Class II and III licenses there is also an increase in the number of unlicensed stern men that can be hired to work in the industry.  As commercial licenses decreased, the number of non-commercial licenses nearly quadrupled (3.12).

Figure 3.13 The total number of lobster licenses and the number of commercial and non-commercial lobster licenses from 1997 to 2007(A).  The percent of commercial licenses issued to apprentices and students (B) (MDMR 2008d).

Age Distribution

Between 1997 and 2007, the percentage of Class I licenses issued to individuals over the age of 70 increased 8%; this increase occurred uniformly in Downeast, Mid-Coast, and Southern Maine (Figure 3.14).  During the same time period, the number of Class I licenses issued to individuals under the age of 18 decreased 6% and the change was not uniform throughout the coastal regions.  The Mid-Coast exhibited the most variation in the percent of harvesters under 18 years of age.   

From 1997 to 2007, apprentice and student licenses combined, as a percent of commercial licenses increased 60%.  The percent of commercial licenses issued to young lobstermen peaked in 2004 at 20%.  Despite the decrease in the total number of commercial lobster licenses the percent of young license holders and the percent of Class I licensed issued to individuals over the age of 70 both increased.  Therefore, the percent of middle-aged lobstermen in the industry decreased.  
Figure 3.14 Total number of lobster licenses issued from 1997 to 2007 by license class (A). Percent of Class I lobster licenses issued to fishermen under 18, and over 70 years old (B).  Percent of Class I lobster licenses issued to fishermen under the age of 18 by region (C). Percent of Class I lobster licenses issued to fishermen over the age of 70 by region (D) (MDMR 2008d).

Lobster Prices

Beginning in 1950, the price of lobster steadily increased, reaching its peak in 1973 at $6.40 per pound (Figure 3.15).  From the late 1980s until the fall of 2008, lobster prices remained fairly constant.  In the fall of 2008, due to the global economic downturn, prices abruptly dropped from $5.00 per pound to an estimated $3.00 per pound.  This represents a 33% decrease in price and exceeds any previous change (Burns 2008, MDMR 2008e).  In southern parts of the state, lobster sold for as little as $2.00 per pound (Burns 2008, Canfield 2008). 

Figure 3.15 Price per pound of lobster from 1950 to 2007 in both nominal and real 2007 dollars (MDMR 2008e).  Data for 2008 are an estimate based on current prices and are not in 2007 real dollars (MLA 2008).


Access, Income, and Employment

Fluctuations in fish stocks, resulting from natural and anthropogenic environmental changes, threaten the strength of Maine's commercial fishing industry.  In regions such as Downeast Maine, in which the average income from fishing is higher than the state average and the median household income is lower than it is in other parts of the state, the commercial fishing industry provides a vital source of income.  Therefore, Downeast Maine's dependence on commercial fishing makes it the most vulnerable to biologic, economic, and social changes. 

Many of the state's 38 aquaculture sites are located in Downeast Maine; these aquaculture sites, as we discuss in the subsequent section, pose a serious threat to the commercial fishing industry as they compromise the health of wild fish species (Island Institute 2007).  Other environmental factors, such as climate change, may actually benefit the region's fishing industry by causing species' habitats and populations to shift north.  The ability of the region's industry to minimize the threat and maximize the benefit of such events, depends on the ability of fishery and industry regulations to reflect the changes in fishery dynamics.

Regardless of stochastic environmental phenomena, Maine's fishing industry remains susceptible to economic changes.  Some of the most pressing economic variables for the industry include decreases in market demand, declines in seafood prices, and increased operating costs.  As the rise in property values and the 2008 decline in lobster prices indicate, these economic pressures are not exerted uniformly throughout the state.  Their effect on fishing communities depends, on the region's demographic characteristics. 

Knox County, for example, may be less threatened by rising property costs than other counties because it receives the most income per fishermen from commercial fishing, and therefore is the best equipped to endure rising fishing costs.  Elsewhere, fishermen in Waldo County, who receive less income from fishing, may be unable to absorb the growing costs of fishing; ultimately forcing them out of the industry.       

Another argument suggests that in Southern Maine, there is more commercial fishing access, a significantly higher property value per capita (the top 50%), and property values are increasing at faster rates.  Therefore, communities in Southern Maine are more likely to be affected by increasing property values (Darling et al. 2007).  Despite not being heavily dependent on commercial fishing, because of the density of fishermen in Southern Maine even a slight decrease in the amount of fishing access in region could have adverse effects on the fishery and the industry.  Reducing the amount of access would result in higher concentrations of fishing activity being focused around a smaller number of access points.  This would undoubtedly increase the competition between fishermen for fishing access and may also lead to increased degradation of the fishery. 

In each of these cases, the threat of rising property values is real.  The difference lies in the way in which fishing communities' demographic and social characteristics shape how fishermen and the industry have and will continue to be affected by these changes and how they respond to them.  For example, in response to the rising property value trends, coastal communities should begin to make a concerted effort to protect waterfront access by increasing the amount of water-dependent zoning.  Improving upon the mere 29% of water-front access that is protected by zoning would likely alleviate the fishing costs fishermen have to internalize (Island Institute 2007).  However, coastal communities do not have equal interests or capacities to utilize mechanisms such as commercial fishing zoning, that conserve commercial fishing access, and in doing so protect the productivity and viability of the commercial fishing industry.

Lobster Licenses and Age of Lobstermen

Our consideration of the allocation of lobster licenses over time illustrates the social structure of the lobster industry.  Looking at the number of commercial licenses, the age distribution of lobstermen, and the allocation of licenses by class can serve as a measure of the future size of the industry and the amount of harvest effort.  Therefore, assessing the structure of the lobster industry can have important implications for the management of the resource and for the livelihood of the communities that depend on the lobster industry.

The consistent number of commercial lobster licenses issued since 1997 is not surprising because lobster licenses and entry into Maine's lobster fishery are traditionally desirable and strictly managed.  The shift in the distribution away from Class I licenses and toward Class II and III is particularly interesting because it increases the number of stern men that can be hired by the industry.  This increases the number of individuals harvesting without increasing the number of licenses issued or violating the entry restrictions. By increasing the number of harvesters on a boat, this shift could increase efficiency of harvest and in doing so improve profitability of the industry while continuing to adhere to existing catch regulations.

The number of individuals in each age class also provides an indication of the state of the lobster industry in the future.  If the number of licensed lobstermen in each age class remains constant, the number of harvesters will tend to remain constant over time; however, if there is an abundance of older individuals and only a few younger individuals entering the industry, as the older individuals retire without replacement, the number of lobster harvesters will decrease, weakening the industry.  Likewise, if there are more individuals entering the industry than there are leaving the industry the demand for licenses will increase.  Maine's lobster industry's strict entry regulations, however, are meant to prevent such a change in the lobster industry's age structure from having an adverse affect on the fishery or the industry's profitability. 

Our data suggest because there was an increase in the number of both young and old lobstermen there was a decrease in the number of lobstermen between the age of 23 and 70.  Unfortunately, because the data for Class II and III licenses are not divided into age groups, as the Class I data are, it is difficult to discern whether the change in the age distribution of Class I licenses is also occurring in Class II and III.  If the trends for Class I licenses represent patterns in the other two classes, one can assume that the slight decrease in commercial licenses is neither due to an aging population of lobstermen nor to lack of entry into the industry. Therefore, the decrease in the industry is likely a result of a reduction in the number of middle-aged lobstermen.

Given the consistent increase in the number of lobstermen continuing to work into their 70s, and inconsistent change in Class I license holders under the age of 18 throughout the regions, the factors compelling lobstermen to enter the industry may not be the same as those that are causing lobstermen to remain the industry into their 70s.  Being able to identify and understand these factors will help fisheries managers comprehend why the re-structuring of the age distribution has occurred and may indicate how it will effect the future of the industry. 

Lobster Prices

Lobster prices in Maine typically fluctuate both throughout the year and from year to year due to variations in supply and demand.  Under unusual circumstances, such as sudden increases or decreases in the abundance of lobster or market demand, the price of lobster changes more dramatically.  The economic recession in the fall of 2008 impacted the lobster industry and lobster prices in Maine, demonstrating the industry's complexity and susceptibility to economic variation.  The economic turmoil and lending crisis compromised the ability of lobster processors in Canada to obtain loans from banks to purchase and process Maine lobster (Canfield 2008, Rappaport 2008b, Richarson 2008).  As a result Maine lobstermen experienced lobster surpluses that caused the price for lobster to drop. 

The state of the economy also caused lobster prices to decline because consumers responded to the volatility of the economy by making conservative financial choices, such as limiting their consumption of lobster and other luxury goods (Canfield 2008).  Therefore, the combination of the increase in supply and the decrease in market demand for lobster caused prices to drop by unprecedented amounts.

As harvesters continued to receive lower prices per pound, the cost of fuel and bait continued to rise (MLPC 2005).  The timing of this decrease in price and increase in cost was particularly troubling because September, October, and November are the months when lobsters begin to migrate to deeper waters and lobstermen record the greatest harvest.  The abundant harvests during these months typically account for the greatest percentage of lobstermen's annual income and represent the earnings "they need to make it through the winter months when they aren't fishing" (Hewitt 2008).  Recognizing that the economic losses in 2008 would be great regardless of whether they fished each day, lobstermen had little choice but to continue to fish, accept lower prices, promote lobster sales and hope for a quick economic turnaround (Burns 2008). 

The lobster industry's response to the economic hardship in 2008 may surprise some, but those who are familiar with the culture of the lobster industry acknowledge that it exemplifies the "patience and fortitude it takes to successfully harvest lobster in the sometimes punishing weather" conditions or other trying circumstances that arise (MLPC 2005).  This determination to preserve is a tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation and is a quintessential part of the culture of the lobster industry.  It is not surprising to find that even as the value of lobster harvests decreased, and harvesting became less and less profitable, lobstermen's harvest effort did not subside.       

Although experienced lobstermen were resilient and appeared to be willing to endure short-term economic losses, rather than pulling their boats out of the water or leaving the industry, the implications of the economic downturn and credit crisis may have proved more debilitating for lobstermen who had recently entered the industry (Burns 2008).  Lobstermen entering the industry during the recession had trouble securing loans from banks to finance the start-up costs associated with purchasing boats and gear, and if not prevented from entering the industry, they at least faced insurmountable initial capital investment costs. 

The persistence of the lending crisis could create a noticeable decrease in the number of lobstermen entering the industry.  If the number of fishermen leaving the industry, due to economic constraints or as a result of older lobstermen retiring, exceeds the number of individuals entering the industry the number of lobstermen in the industry may decrease, diminishing the industry's productivity and contributions to the state economy.  Such a result is of particular concern because lobstermen over the age of 70 account for a growing portion of the industry.

Lobstermen were not the only ones concerned about the implications of declining lobster prices.  Coastal communities were also concerned about the socioeconomic implication of the decline in lobster prices because it could potentially cost local economies tens of millions of dollars (Hewitt 2008).  In order to address this glaring reality and the growing concern within the lobster industry and coastal communities, MLPC will have to work even harder to advocate for the sale of lobster and the interests of lobstermen and the lobster industry. 

On a larger scale, industry and government officials established a multipronged plan to help the industry recover.  This plan included an appeal by Senator Snowe to the Small Business Administration, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Agriculture requesting aid for lobstermen equivalent to the aid farmers would receive when they suffer similar hardships (Associated Press 2008b).  Another initiative was for the State to begin to establish processing infrastructure that would "encourage domestic value-added processing of Maine's signature seafood, ... reduce the fishery's reliance on volatile foreign financing and bring new jobs to the state" (Hewitt 2008).

In addition to these efforts, there was also a push to pursue sustainable harvest certification for the state's fisheries.  Abiding by sustainable harvest guidelines and receiving sustainable harvest certification could produce significant short-term economic benefits, because historically consumers have been willing to pay more for sustainably produced goods (MacLean 2008).  As "consumers continue demanding more green foods," the value of having sustainably certified fisheries in Maine has become more apparent (Associated Press 2008a).  The certification of Maine's fisheries will also be increasingly important as large scale retailers such as Target, Whole Foods, and Costco make commitments to selling sustainably certified seafood while others, such as Wal-Mart, plan to start selling only sustainably certified seafood in their stores in the next few years (Associated Press 2008a).  With the decline in lobster prices, there is undoubtedly a heightened interest in ensuring that Maine lobster receives sustainable certification as soon as possible.    

Impacts of Pollution on Anadromous Fish

The health of Maine's marine fish stocks is highly dependent upon the state of Maine's coastal waters, inland rivers, and streams.  These habitats act as nurseries for juvenile fish, as sources of nutrients and food, and as spawning grounds.  Maine rivers support the reproductive needs of ten marine fish species, including the critically endangered Atlantic salmon, and perform valuable ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and pollution transport (PRRT 2008).  Historically, rivers have also acted as critical resources for Maine's logging and paper industries, as well as commercial and recreational fishing industries.  In the past century, Maine's rivers and coastal waters have been disrupted and polluted by industry and development.  This section examines the various threats of pollution to Maine's fisheries; specifically, we look at Atlantic salmon stocks and the impact of inland pollution as well as coastal net pen aquaculture.  

Wild Atlantic Salmon Stocks

Atlantic salmon are reared in fresh water streams and rivers, referred to as their natal waters, and spend one to three years in these juvenile habitats prior to migrating to sea.  Once they have reached maturity, salmon will return back to their specific natal waters in order to spawn.  Most Salmon die shortly after spawning.  Atlantic salmon's homing instincts have important evolutionary and genetic implications; distinct population segments have evolved in response to the unique environmental conditions of specific rivers (NRC 2003). Though the majority of Atlantic salmon will return to their own natal waters to spawn, roughly one to five percent stray to other rivers, thus allowing for the eventual repopulation of rivers whose salmon populations may have declined (Sowles 2008, NRC 2003).

Atlantic salmon stocks were initially depleted by over fishing, water quality degradation, and placement of migration barriers. Beginning with European settlement of North America, Maine's rivers have become increasingly fragmented by dams, paper mills, waste disposal sites, and waterpower developments.  By the early 1800s, stocks of Atlantic salmon had been severely depleted, yet an estimated half million Atlantic salmon were still spawning in US rivers.   By 1865, Atlantic salmon runs ceased to exist in Southern New England altogether, and were severely depleted in the North (USFWS 1999).

As early as 1866, restocking attempts were made in northern New England rivers.  Initiatives included the introduction of juvenile, actively feeding fish referred to as parr of smolt into rivers with depleted salmon runs.  These fish were typically sourced from the Penobscot River, but could be raised in hatcheries throughout New England, the Midwest or Canada.  Early restocking attempts had varying success, and often included the introduction of fish with genotypes that did not reflect adaptation to their transplant habitat. This caused an eventual blending of genotypes between rivers and loss of genetic diversity within the species (NRC 2003, Sowles 2008, USFWS 1999).  Starting in 1991, Atlantic salmon introductions have been done on a river-specific basis.  River-specific restocking consists of capturing parr in their native river, breeding them to maturity in a hatchery, allowing them to mate, and releasing their offspring back into their native river, thus allowing for the persistence of river-specific genotypes (NRC 2003).  Today, Atlantic salmon are only found spawning in a few Maine rivers.  From 2002-2007 the average number of spawning salmon in Maine was 1,200 fish, 90% of which were observed in the Penobscot River alone (DSF 2008, NRC 2003).

Continued anthropogenic disturbances such as habitat fragmentation and climate change, paired with the remnants of old river industries and placement of new barriers to migration such as large hydroelectric dams, threaten wild Atlantic salmon populations today.  According to the Committee on Atlantic salmon in Maine, dams are the single greatest impediment to Atlantic salmon recovery (NRC 2003).  Removal of these threats and barriers is capital intensive and carries significant opportunity costs (Dill et al. 2003).  In contrast, the threats of pollution to anadromous fish and stock recovery initiatives such as parr introduction can be regulated and minimized at a much lower cost.

Threats from Inland Pollution

Our analysis of inland pollution focuses on the potential effects that various pollutants (Table 3.6) have on salmon habitat, and the policy frameworks regulating this pollution.  MPDES permits are required for commercial and industrial sites discharging a wide variety of effluents ranging from stormwater collected in parking garages to ammonia and urea from paper mills (MDEP 2008).  Overboard discharge permits in Maine are held by residential and commercial parties discharging untreated wastewater, excluding standard septic systems (MDEP 2003).  While overboard discharge systems include a chlorination process to disinfect water, these systems are oftentimes poorly maintained and may release excesses of chlorine or contaminated water, creating dead zones and algal blooms in rivers (NRC 2003).

Table 3.6  Major inland pollution types, sources, and effects on anadromous fish (Dill et al. 2003, Goodman 2008, NRC 2003).

Obtaining MPDES permits does not ensure that effluent discharge will not be harmful to water bodies, or that the permit holder will abide by the guidelines stipulated in their permit.  For example, the Verso paper mill on the Androscoggin, formerly owned by International Paper, has never met the base discharge water quality requirements stipulated by the original CWA.  Despite Verso's commitment to meeting CWA regulations by 2009, irreparable damage has already been done to Androscoggin River.  Dissolved oxygen levels are so low in the Androscoggin that an artificial oxygenation system had to be installed (NRCM 2008).

Threats from Atlantic Salmon Aquaculture

Our analysis of Maine Atlantic salmon aquaculture focuses on the various effects of fish farms on coastal ecosystems as well as the direct threat aquaculture poses to wild Atlantic salmon stocks (Figure 3.16).  Juvenile salmon raised for aquaculture are reared first in freshwater tanks on land before being released into net pens to mature for an additional two years.  During this period, they are given special food designed to increase growth rates and are fed antibiotics or inoculated with vaccines to prevent disease.  Net pen sites consist of suspended floating mesh nets measuring roughly 30 meters (m) by 30m and extending down roughly 20m deep (Weber 1997).  Because of the use of feed inputs in aquaculture and the concentrated nature of net pens, finfish aquaculture produces large quantities of waste feed, feces, and dissolved nutrients, which are released into surrounding waters (Sowles and Churchill 2004).  Up to 30% of aquaculture feed may fall out of pens as waste, which can travel up to 30m from aquaculture sites depending upon depth, currents, and climactic conditions (Panchang and Newell 1997, Sowles and Churchill 2004).  This fallout causes algal blooms, hypoxia and dead zones, and degrading waters, and potentially causes a deterrent to wild Atlantic salmon migration. In response to increasing discharge from aquaculture, EPA ruled in 2002 that MPDES permits are required for any aquaculture site (Price 2004, Duff 2008, Young 2008).

Figure 3.16  Location of NPDES licensed finfish aquaculture sites and net pens in relation to Atlantic salmon spawning and rearing rivers, and rivers with anadromous fish runs (MDMR 2008, MEGIS 2003).

Pollution from aquaculture is not limited to excess food and organic wastes.  Escaped fish represent their own form of pollution, and pose major threats to native salmon populations.  The salmon from aquaculture net pens differ genetically from native salmon, yet are able to compete with and in some cases interbreed with native salmon in the wild.  Regardless of efforts to contain farmed salmon, fish are frequently able to escape during rough weather or when net pens are torn.  Up to 40% of salmon caught in the Atlantic are of farmed origin (Naylor et al. 2001).   These farmed salmon are able to colonize areas outside of the native range of wild salmon, and may move between freshwater and saltwater habitats.  Despite their inferior breeding performance, farmed salmon can attempt to breed with native salmon by "sneak" fertilization of eggs.  Sneak fertilizations involves farmed fish interrupting spawning processes of wild fish in order to fertilize eggs that a wild salmon would otherwise fertilize, thus leading to the creation of hybrid species and genetic homogenization.  Farmed salmon may also transfer pathogens and parasites (such as the sea lice prevalent in aquaculture pens) to wild populations, thus increasing the incidence of disease and mortality (Naylor et al. 2005).

State of Pollution Affecting Anadromous Fish

Industrial pollution in Maine is well monitored through the MPDES permitting scheme, and both commercial and residential sanitary discharges are permitted through the overboard discharge scheme.  However, the existence of permitting and monitoring programs does not ensure that damage is not being inflicted by pollution. Of the 469 MPDES permits in Maine, 33 (7%) are within 100m of waters flowing into Atlantic salmon habitat, and 31 (6.6%) are within 100m of waters flowing into any anadromous fish habitat.   Of the 2,308 overboard discharge sites in Maine, 67 (2.9%) are within 100m of Atlantic salmon habitat, while 109 (4.7%) are within 100m of any anadromous fish habitat (Figure 3.17).    There are three inland fish rearing facilities which are discharging within 100m of waters flowing into Atlantic salmon habitat, and two fish rearing facilities within 100m of waters flowing into anadromous fish habitats (Table 3.7).    Additionally, there is one paper mill in Madison discharging into waters within 100m of waters flowing into Atlantic salmon habitat.

Figure 3.17 Relative proximities of permitted discharges with respect to known Atlantic salmon spawning and rearing grounds, and known anadromous fish runs (MDEP 2008).

Table 3.7  Fish hatcheries within 100m of Atlantic salmon or anadromous fish habitats, species raised at each facility, facility ownership, and waterbody receiving MPDES permitted discharge (Dill et al. 2003).

The number of aquaculture sites and annual aquaculture yield has decreased dramatically in the past decade (Figure 3.18).  Before 2000, there was a steady increase in the number of aquaculture sites and yield.  In 2001, however, an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia, a virus fatal to Atlantic salmon, wiped out huge numbers of fish in Cobscook Bay (Sowles and Churchill 2004).  To maintain the outbreak, all aquaculture facilities in the bay were ordered to eradicate their stocks.  Today, Cobscook Bay supports only half the population it once did (Sowles and Churchill 2004).

Figure 3.18  Number of active finfish aquaculture sites by year.  Whole pounds aquaculture output per year in millions of pounds (MDMR 2008).  

A 2002 ruling by EPA amended CWA in response to the 2000 listing of Atlantic salmon as an endangered species, thus furthering the decline in aquaculture sites.   The new amendments require that any aquaculture facility discharging effluent into the ocean obtain a MPDES permit.  Two large aquaculture sites, Stolt Sea Farm and Atlantic Salmon of Maine, had previously applied for MPDES permits but had never been granted them.  After court rulings (US Public Interest Research Group v. Atlantic Salmon of Maine), both farms were fined and ordered to harvest all their fish as quickly as possible and to let their net pens fallow for a minimum of two years, essentially shutting down these operations (Duff 2008, Price 2004). In 2002, the number of Atlantic salmon aquaculture sites dropped from 31 to 12, and has continued to decline since.

Since 2002, aquaculture has remained relatively stable and well managed, largely as a result of collaboration between MDMR and individual leaseholders surrounding a system of year-class separation.  This system requires that all aquaculture sites in Cobscook Bay are fallowed for three months after the harvest of each round of fish farming (Sowles 2008).  MDMR in conjunction with Atlantic Salmon of Maine (ASM) conducts routine contamination audits, monthly inventories to check for escaped fish, and benthic samples to check for effects of pollution from aquaculture.  Tests indicate that aquaculture has a limited effect on surrounding waters; benthic growth and oxygen depletion as a result of organic matter discharge are largely contained within the shadow of individual net pens.  Due to fears of genetic hybridization as a result of breeding between farmed and wild fish, all farmed salmon in Maine are now North American species, as opposed to historical uses of pacific salmon in aquaculture (Sowles 2008).

In 2007 there were five Atlantic salmon aquaculture sites in Maine, with a cumulative total of 28 net pens (Table 3.16).  25 of these net pens are in Washington County, with three in Hancock County.  The majority of net pens are placed in protected waters: seventeen in Cobscook Bay, five in Machias Bay, two off the shore of Great Wass Island, and three off the shore of Swans Island.  Not all net pens are in use at one time; only eight of Cobscook Bay's pens are currently in use (Sowles 2008).  Both Cobscook Bay and Machias Bay are outlets for rivers with known Atlantic salmon spawning and rearing grounds.  The Dennys and Cathance Rivers flow into Cobscook Bay; the E. Machias and Machias Rivers flow into Machias Bay.  Although Atlantic salmon aquaculture near Great Wass Island and Swans Island are set offshore from any spawning river outlets, they are still within relatively close proximity of vulnerable rivers.


The effects of pollution from inland effluent discharges into anadromous fish rivers are difficult to measure directly, but can be inferred with a high degree of certainty. Testing of overboard discharge systems indicates that an estimated 50% of such systems are improperly maintained, therefore releasing untreated or chlorinated water into Maine rivers (Dill et al. 2003).  There is little doubt that numerous dead zones or algal blooms are being created in Maine rivers with anadromous fish or Atlantic salmon runs near overboard discharge point sources. Algal blooms increase biological oxygen demand causing eutrophication, increased turbidity, and reduced dissolved oxygen contents in these waters, two factors which make habitats unsuitable for Atlantic salmon.

Similarly, MPDES permits on Atlantic salmon rivers are inherently disruptive to these systems.   The effluent from MPDES permitted discharges may increase water temperatures or acidity, and may release endocrine disrupting chemicals, non-pesticide organochlorines, or organic matter (Table 3.6).  Because MPDES permits represent discharge of a wide variety of potential pollutants, it is hard to quantify exactly what sort of damage is inflicted by the addition of these pollutants to rivers.  Additionally, the inability to measure exactly how close each pollutant is to a water source and how well it may be filtered before entering that water inhibits the formation of precise conclusions as to the degree of impact caused by inland pollution.   Some specialists believe that the damages done to rivers by inland pollution affect such short sections of river that they have minimal impact on anadromous fish, especially considering that spawning is usually done in river headwaters upstream from discharges (Sowles 2008).  Others argue that because fish must pass through polluted zones to reach headwaters and juvenile salmon use these areas as habitat, inland pollution causes significant damage to fish stocks (Dill et al. 2003, NRC 2003).

Despite the difficulty of directly measuring pollution levels, it is possible to infer the probable large-scale impacts that selected discharges may have based on past studies done on specific types of polluters, specifically fish hatcheries and paper mills.  The five fish hatcheries located within 100m of either Atlantic salmon habitat or anadromous fish habitat present a risk to wild anadromous fish.  These hatcheries discharge organic wastes, nitrogen, and phosphorus, thus causing oxygen-depleting eutrophication in rivers and algal blooms/hypoxia.   However, these hatcheries are increasingly becoming conscious of their environmental impacts (especially considering that many of them are raising fish to repopulate Maine rivers), and many have gone to great lengths to upgrade their effluent filtration systems.  The Green Lake hatchery recently renovated its effluent filtration system in order to remove particulates as small as 20 microns from its discharge (USFWS 2008b).  One MPDES permit within 100m of rivers flowing into Atlantic salmon habitat belongs to the Madison Paper mill.  Although this is only a "minor" permit, paper mills have historically caused relatively serious damage to river ecosystems such as the Androscoggin, where damming and mill-related water quality deterioration below a level tolerable by Atlantic salmon has caused extensive damage.

The proximity of Atlantic salmon aquaculture to wild salmon habitats presents a threat to these native fish stocks.  Considering the competitive advantage farmed juveniles have as a result of their relatively greater size, farmed fish escaping near Atlantic salmon spawning rivers may out-compete wild fish, causing increased mortality of juveniles migrating down rivers to the ocean or mature fish returning to spawn. The cumulative effects of aquaculture further deplete wild Atlantic salmon and inhibit stocks from recovery through natural processes or artificial restocking efforts.

In response to the risk of disease among farmed salmon, Atlantic salmon aquaculture stock numbers are regulated in Cobscook Bay (Sowles and Churchhill 2004).  Assuming other areas along the Maine coastline impose similar density limits, the potential for expansion of Maine's aquaculture industry will be largely limited by climactic conditions and availability of suitable coastline.  The continental shelf and its cold deep ocean waters represent an eastern limit on aquaculture, while sporadic "superchill" freezing events south of Penobscot Bay make aquaculture too risky.  Aquaculture in Northern Maine depends largely on an ocean current moving down the coast from the north carrying deep ocean water to prevent superchill events (Sowles 2008).

Climate change may severely decrease the availability of suitable aquaculture sites; it is predicted that with climate change, superchill event frequency will increase in the south, effectively decreasing the range in which aquaculture can take place.  Should this occur, there may be a shift to farming species such as cod and halibut which can accommodate a greater temperatures range.  The potential for farming of these species would likely be limited by concerns over encroachment of aquaculture into vulnerable seabird nesting areas.  Despite these limitations, there is room for coastal aquaculture to expand in Maine (Sowles 2008).

The anthropogenic implications of pollution and its impact on anadromous fish are complex and highly contested. Allowing industries such as paper mills, hydroelectric dams, sewage treatment plants, and fish hatcheries to release effluent discharges into Maine rivers reduces operating costs of these facilities.  This bolsters the Maine economy and allows for the low-cost production of goods, services, and even renewable energy.  Similarly, aquaculture is a valuable industry in Maine, providing jobs and relatively cheap seafood products.  The effect of fish hatcheries is especially difficult to judge as these hatcheries produce juvenile Atlantic salmon to repopulate rivers, yet may cause harm to these rivers in the process.  Considering the efforts hatcheries have made to filter their effluent, they likely have a positive overall effect on Maine's fisheries.    

River-based industry and coastal aquaculture pollution harms valuable ecosystems and decreases the value of ecosystem services, such as availability of usable spawning grounds for commercially valuable fish.  Regulation of aquaculture implies a social cost; the multiple governmental and non-profit actors formed to protect salmon have significant operating expenses.  Polluted rivers also lower property values and destroy recreational areas (Naylor 2005).  Aquaculture sites and river pollution cause serious harm to a species of fish already near extinction, and have serious ecological consequences when improperly managed.

The 782 dams constructed on Maine rivers have limited useful lifetimes and are expensive to remove once they are filled with sediment (Taylor 2007).  Recognizing that dam removal will be crucial for Atlantic salmon recovery, environmental coalitions have undertaken projects to buy dams from power companies and other industries in order to have them demolished.  The removal of the Edwards dam on the Kennebec made Maine the first state in the nation to decomission a dam explicitly for salmon reestablishment.  Since then a number of other dam removals have taken place on rivers such as the Penobscot.  In 2003, a group of environmental organizations paid PPL Electric Utilities $25 million for the removal of two dams on the this river (Belluck 2003).

Increased awareness of the state and threats posed by pollution is stimulating pollution reduction efforts among industry, specifically aquaculture hatcheries.  Aquaculture lease holders have an incentive to avoid pollution not only to maintain their MPDES permits, but also to avoid losing valuable fish stock and incurring insurance payments for damages caused by escaped fish (Naylor et al. 2005).  Public perception also influences aquaculture operations, as sport fisherman take large interest in the survival of wild Atlantic salmon stocks.

Much attention continues to focus on the state of wild Atlantic salmon stocks and their potential for recovery.  A recent salmon tracking program, the Ocean Tracking Network, recorded 2000 Atlantic salmon returning to the Penobscot in 2008, the highest number in 20 years (NOAA Fisheries Service 2008a).  Ultrasonic tracking and tagging programs such as theirs have the potential to dramatically improve regulatory processes through increased accuracy of stock measurement.  The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has recently initiated a dialogue on salmon aquaculture intended to serve as a forum for the development of international consensus on the social and environmental impacts of aquaculture as well as the appropriate international treatment of aquaculture (WWF 2008). 

NOAA is currently pushing to extend protection of Atlantic salmon under ESA to include fish in the Androscoggin, Kennebec, and Penobscot Rivers (rivers initially left out pending further research).  This amendment would protect the majority of Atlantic salmon currently spawning in Maine, thus increasing natural repopulation potential (NOAA Fisheries Service 2008a).  Any actions to further restrict Atlantic salmon fishing are highly contested by recreational fisherman and industries that would be hurt by increased restrictions on hydropower.  Even though fishermen do not target Atlantic salmon, endangered status would restrict any fishing efforts targeting other species which may result in accidental salmon catch (Miller 2008).  Environmentalists and fisheries biologists counter this argument by advocating an incidental take clause in the expanded ESA listing to protect fisherman who may accidentally catch Atlantic salmon. To maintain the relative cooperation that has existed between environmentalists, industry, and fisherman, Maine officials are considering listing Atlantic salmon on these rivers as threatened rather than endangered to limit the potential harm done to industry.  Environmentalists maintain that such efforts would not offer sufficient protection (Miller 2008).  


Having discussed the current state of Maine's fisheries and fishing industry, we now present two possible scenarios for their future.  As the health of fish stocks and the fishing industry both affect each other directly, we chose to isolate the fishing industry's success as a dependent variable, and treated variables such as fishery stocks, regulatory policy, demographics, economic factors, coastal development, pollution, and climate change as independent.   

Crusher Claw:  Fishing Industry Collapse 

The greatest threat to the fishing industry is a collapse of species stock resulting from poor fishery management, habitat shifts or loss due to climate change, disease or other stochastic environmental events.  If state or federal regulations fail to effectively regulate fish harvest, or regulations are not enforced, fish stocks could be overexploited.  Low fishing costs as a result of cheap fuel, labor, and gear may also contribute to rapid depletion of fish stocks.  Development along rivers, habitat fragmentation caused by building barriers, and pollution of fish spawning grounds all threaten anadormous populations and prevent species recovery.   

As the profitability of fishing decreases, important characteristics of Maine's fishing culture, such as independence and self-sustainability, would be lost.  As marginal fishing costs increase, economies of scale could allow large, multi-national fleets to continue operating; however, the economic barriers to self-employed fishermen may prevent local, small-scale fishing operations from being economically viable, forcing fishermen to seek alternative employment. The predominance of large-scale fishing corporations, lacking ties to Maine's coastal communities and incentives to protect Maine's fisheries, may result in overexploitation of the resource.  In this way, a collapse of Maine's local fishing industry could be detrimental to both the state's economy and fishery stocks. The loss of both Maine's tourism and fishing industry could have dramatic economic and social consequences for the fishing culture that is an essential part of Maine's coastal brand.

A collapse of Maine's fishing stocks could increase the demand for aquaculture as an alternative means of income and seafood production; however, climate change is expected to decrease the amount of suitable aquaculture habitat (Sowles 2008). This may result in greater densities of aquaculture sites in the remaining suitable waters, and could increase risks of competition and pollution as well as the probability of a viral epidemic. While declining fish stocks may encourage aquaculture to expand, it would also lead to the further decimation of indigenous fish stocks.

Economic forces such as recession, as occurred in the fall of 2008, could also adversely affect the fishing industry.  A decrease in household income would cause the market demand for high priced seafood products to decrease.  Despite the drop in demand, fishermen could continue to harvest at or near their regulated quotas to meet individual economic needs in the short-run. A resulting seafood surplus and low market prices may reduce the total value of the commercial industry.  High costs of fuel, gear, and bait would also compromise the viability of individual participation and diminish the profitability of the fishing industry.  Sustained reductions in marginal profits would discourage fishermen from continuing to fish or entering the industry in the long-run, while rising property values and costs of coastal living would deter or prevent fishermen from gaining access to fisheries and pursuing fishing careers.  With fewer independent fishermen, large-scale fishing corporations could enter the industry and harvest species with low marginal fishing costs in order to satisfy market demand for inexpensive seafood. Therefore, an economic recession could serve to decrease overexploitation risk to species with relatively high market prices, such as lobster, but would ultimately pose a risk to fish stocks with low marginal fishing costs.

Smooth Sailing: Stable Fishing Industry

A key factor determining the productivity and profitability of Maine's commercial fishing industry is the health of individual fish stocks.  Depleted fish stocks could recover if environmental conditions suit reproduction, species maintain stable age distributions, disease is minimal, and the fishery is sustainably managed using community-based management practices.

Increased regulation for construction and development along rivers could restrict the amount of pollution and sedimentation in anadromous fish habitat.  Likewise, removing three to five dams a year and installing fish ladders at existing dams may help restore depleted fish stocks by allowing for the migration and spawning of anadromous fish (DSF 2008).  Improving the quality of rivers in Maine could allow for the reestablishment of viable anadromous populations in the state's coastal waters.

Once fish stocks are stable, assuming there is sufficient market demand, fishermen could be able to harvest at or below maximum sustainable yield. Harvesting at that level could be economically sustainable if fishermen continue to receive sufficiently high prices for their catch and fishing remains cost effective.  Large fish stocks and the re-establishment of Atlantic salmon could grant fishermen the opportunity to harvest more fish while exerting less effort and incurring less cost.
If the demand for seafood remains high and fishing costs, including those associated with water-front access, fuel, and bait, are low, then fishing industry could be very profitable.  The fishery can only be profitable if fishermen have commercial access.  If coastal property values decrease or the growth of the industry's profitability exceeds increases in coastal property values, fishermen may continue to be able to afford commercial fishing access.

Under this scenario, the Maine fishing industry would remain localized and individual fisherman would reap the profits.  As the industry flourishes and produces more value, there could be an increase in incentives to create regulations favoring the fishing industry.


The long-term well-being of Maine's fisheries and fishing industry requires a dynamic regulation and harvesting practices to meet the evolving needs of fish populations and fishing communities.  In order for a balance or harvest equilibrium to be reached, both species populations and market forces must be relatively stable.  If fishery stocks are stable in terms of age structure, birth rates, and mortality rates, there is an increased likelihood that fish populations such as lobster can be sustained using an effective management strategy.  Stability in market forces, including price of gear and local property, as well as demand for the good, provide fishermen with a sense of job security and ensure that the tradition of fishing in Maine continues.  When unexpected economic disturbances occur, fishermen are forced to choose between their immediate income needs and their cultural heritage.  The 2008 economic downturn weighed heavily on Maine fishermen as the market demand for their goods decreased.  Lobstermen, in particular, suffered economic hardship this fall, due to the record 33% decrease in lobster prices.  This pattern, however, is not expected to persist.  We believe that the fishing industry will stabilize when consumer spending rises again.   

Maine has long been hailed as a model of community-based lobster management, a practice that has been successful and should be continued in the future.  The value of the lobster industry alone accounts for 70% of the state's fisheries value and provides 80% of the nation's lobster.  Instead of passing heavy-handed mandates from federal and state governments down to fishermen, community-based management allows local communities to consider how best to manage their own fishing territory.  Communities have unique dependence on the fisheries, so by giving fishermen exclusive rights to the resource they can collaborate to develop regulatory practices that best meet local needs and interests.  Therefore, fishermen themselves have the greatest stake in the continued success of the fishery.     

While the lobster fishery remains in good health, progressive regulations, fishermen involvement, research and resources should be applied to restoring depleted fisheries.  Although groundfish are not threatened by imminent extinction, harvest value has declined by 89% over the past four decades.  Significant work can still be done to ensure the long-term survival and economic value of groundfish species. 

Unlike the state's other fisheries, Atlantic salmon continue to be endangered to the point of near extinction.  In the past year increasing numbers of wild salmon returning to rivers, such as the Penobscot, exceeds the five year average, indicating that the species could recover if proper regulation and river restoration policy efforts are undertaken.

For regulatory policies such as ESA or CWA to be effective, it is paramount that barriers to anadromous fish reproduction be removed.  This effort should include continued dismantling of dams and physical obstacles that block spawning runs.  Although the number of inland pollution sources within 100m of Atlantic salmon habitats is limited, it is important that these pollution sources continue to be monitored and regulated.  By restoring spawning rivers, anadromous fish will be able to reproduce more effectively and repopulation efforts by USFWS and MDIFW will be more successful.  Since 2002, aquaculture density restrictions and cooperative monitoring initiatives involving MDMR and individual fish farmers have proven to be an effective means of minimizing the risks associated with aquaculture (Sowles 2008).  The continued regulation of aquaculture will minimize the threats of disease, pollution, competition, and hybridization to Atlantic salmon. 

Federal marine fishery regulations have many implications for Maine's marine fisheries.  President-elect Obama did not explicitly address his platform on marine resource regulation during his 2008 campaign, but marine scientists are hopeful that the new administration will prioritize the long-term sustainability of fish stocks.  Co-chairs of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Bruce Babbitt, the former Secretary of the Interior, and Congressman James Greenwood authored a report addressing the needs of fisheries that Mr. Obama should prioritize (Babbitt and Greenwood 2008).  Their primary recommendation is the implementation of a "catch shares" management scheme, which provides market-based incentives to harvest sustainably.  If the US applied a quota system to all commercial fishing industries, it would lead the world in innovative fisheries management; this is a shift away from traditional regulation that restricts harvest through gear regulations and closed seasons.

President-elect Obama's intentions of supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship could have positive implications for fishermen.  Through tax breaks and loans, self-employed fishermen may have more job security and greater capacity to endure economic turmoil or uncertain fishery stocks.  Additionally, these mechanisms may encourage the construction of community-based processing infrastructure in rural areas. This would decrease Maine's reliance on Canadian processing plants, keeping profits from the fishing industry within the state.


We make eight policy recommendations that, if enacted by the State, will help to ensure the long-term stability of Maine's fish stocks, coastal communities, and fishing industry.

  1. Community-based management, which has proven successful for the lobster industry, should be applied more expansively to Maine's fisheries, because it enables participants committed to a species' continuation, to collaborate and develop sustainable regulations.
  2. The initial steps that Maine has taken to certify the lobster industry as sustainable have established a precedent that should be extended to include labeling of all important fisheries as certified. The goal to have this occur by 2011 is ambitious but pivotal for the promotion of Maine's industry in a competitive global market.
  3. Coastal communities depend on the fishing industry for job security, no matter the economic or ecological uncertainties they face. Our recommendation is that Maine should develop more processing facilities within the state. This would not only increase the value of the industry, but also ensure that harvests are able to be processed, no matter the economic situation.
  4. The State should legislate policies to provide an economic safety net for fishing communities during times of industry failure. This could include government purchases of harvest surpluses, direct aid, and encouraging bank loans.
  5. Coastal areas that are dependent on commercial access need to be rezoned for commercial fishing in order to prevent other development from occurring at these sites. Loss of coastal commercial fishing access could have the most detrimental impact on the traditions of Maine fishing.
  6. Shift regulation strategies toward catch share regulations rather than gear and harvest regulations. The licensing and tagging programs have thus far been successful in the lobster industry and may have similarly positive impacts on other fisheries.
  7. To encourage the regeneration of wild anadromous fish stocks, dams should continue to be removed from Maine rivers. This is the best course of action to allow for fish to travel unhindered to spawning grounds, and for young to return to the sea to reach maturity. It is only when this journey can take place unimpeded that stocks will begin to grow.
  8. Sources of inland and coastal pollution such as paper mills and aquaculture net pens should be monitored and regulated to ensure that negative effects on anadromous fish are minimized and no further pollution permits are issued.

Although this paper does not fully explore the potential and unpredictable results that climate change and stochastic events could have on fisheries and the fishing industry, it is important that the state models the scenarios that could take place if an event like sea level rise should take place.

Considering Maine's overall success in fisheries management, fisheries are likely to remain a staple of the state's economy and cultural identity.  If the long-term stability of Maine's fish stocks is traded for short-term economic gain as a result of excessive coastal development, pollution, aquaculture, or over harvesting, stocks may be at an increased risk of failure.  Continued awareness and proactive management of marine resources will keep Maine as a model for successful fisheries harvest.  

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