Posted by John Marr

PP Bowen Depke did a fabulous job running through the extensive list of accomplishments of this week’s guest speaker, Don Perkins, President and C.E.O. of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). The Institute, under Mr. Perkins leadership, is a welcome fixture on a tumultuous waterfront. While GMRI is located on Casco Bay, its purview extends far beyond.

Mr. Perkins offered up a balanced report focusing on many of the known influences climate change is making on the coastal biology of Maine, New England, and beyond. Early on in his presentation, Don made it clear that he wasn’t going to be dragged into climate politics and would concentrate on clear changes impacting the lands and seas of the world’s coasts. If you have coastal property you are concerned that statistics indicate that flood potential is adversely impacting values. It is predicted that the sea level will rise 9 feet or more over the century. Think of what Commercial Street will look like! But, it’s much more than property values at risk, it impacts livelihoods even more profoundly. Think about the vanishing fish stock and the affect it has on crews, dock workers, boat builders, mariner mechanics and so on.  Of course, we also must think about what the world would be without a plentiful Maine lobster!

Despite the adversities facing coastal communities and their populace, Don was not delivering a somber message, nor a cautionary tale. He focused on facts, facilities and opportunities to embrace dynamic changes and create a new iteration of the coastal water economy. To be sure, the sea level is rising, and the water temperatures are similarly changing. The Institute has been gathering ocean related data and developing a composite of the life therein. The current picture is worrisome and requires understanding and adaptation in order to improve.  Fortunately, the fishers and fishing industry of Maine have been willing to make changes in order to continue and grow. The bottom line of the fishing industry is staggering....over 1.5 billion dollars a year. The lobstering industry is close to half of that number. The lobster catch has spiked over the past decade, but the future is quite likely to be much different, but not non-existent, according to Perkins.

Nature and mankind have been adapting and reemerging in a similar form for time immemorial.  Don expects that to continue in a favorable manner, despite dramatic challenges. The problem is that the changes are coming fast, and we are on “the bleeding edge.” We must react with alacrity or accept the consequences. Perkins points to the emergence of aquaculture as an immense opportunity, if it’s managed properly. When most people think of aquaculture they think of salmon or maybe, oysters, but it can be much more. An example of potential is the growing of kelp. Kelp grows prolifically in the winter when the fishing industry is in a lull.  Currently, kelp is not a high-dollar business but there are ways to develop a market. If that seems like a pipe dream, Don asked us to consider that salmon are being given a start for life in abandoned paper mills, to wit: Bucksport. While we can be creative and embrace change, Don maintains, we must save the ocean environment.

The statistics related to Don’s fish story can be found on the Gulf of Maine Research Institute website and are worthy of review. In response to the deluge of data and details, Don got some terrific questions during an abbreviated Q & A session. 

For example,
What do we do with the problematic green crab? Not sure it’ll ever become a commercial success, despite Italian cooks, he suggests we compost it. 

Will the venerable Maine tiny shrimp make a comeback or be farmed? Unfortunately, the water change is the death nell for that sumptuous delight, so look to Canada.  

The take away from Don is simple, “we’ve got to stop looking backward and start looking forward.”

(Photo L-R: Don Perkins and member, Jerry Angier.)