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This report represents the first time the State of Maine has articulated a research agenda for five major marine resources:  soft-shell clams, lobster, scallops, sea urchins, and shrimp.  The research agenda will not only guide state actions; it will stimulate the market for research that serves the state's needs and enable the broader marine science community to access funds for projects that serve state purposes.   

The Gulf of Maine provides Maine with one of its major natural assets:  marine resources.  The dockside value of commercial harvest alone was valued at $323.8 million in 1999, placing the state first in value in the northeast for the sixth year in a row.  This catch employed 10,550 people directly and another 15,450 indirectly.  That totals to 26,000, 3.9% of the state civilian workforce in 1999.  The total economic impact of commercial fishing was estimated at $777 million, which was 2.4% of the states gross state product the previous year (latest figure).  

Protecting the state's marine resource assets requires good management to ensure sustainable fisheries.  However, good management requires good scientific information about these species and the ecology of the Gulf and the bays that border the state's coast.  The rudimentary state of our knowledge of these subjects is surprising to those unfamiliar with marine issues.  

The priorities in this report were developed through a collaborative process during seven, daylong meetings held from April 25 to May 17, 2000.   Meetings were held on soft-shell clams (Boothbay Harbor and Machias), lobsters (Rockland and Ellsworth), sea urchins (Orland), shrimp (Boothbay Harbor), and scallops (Machias).  The meetings were convened by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and facilitated under contract by Gulf of Maine Aquarium.  The Maine Sea Grant Marine Extension Program joined in planning and providing staffing assistance.  Funding was provided by a planning grant from the Economic Development Administration, DMR, and the Maine Sea Grant Program.  Separate, ongoing priority-setting processes for herring, groundfish, and finfish and shellfish aquaculture will also be integrated into department planning. 

The meetings were non-regulatory, neutral, and inclusive.  They created a safe environment for curiosity and questioning that was enthusiastically embraced by those participating.  The 248 people who attended the meetings included fishing industry members, academic scientists, government scientists, and fishery managers. 

Eighty top-ranked research priorities were articulated on 24 topics. The topics ask basic research questions in an applied context.  Together the topics provide a much richer definition of fishery science than is normally considered in the narrow context of fishery assessments and attest to the value of combining the natural curiosity and knowledge of fishermen with that of research scientists. 

Priority research topics include: 

  •       Larval source and settlement:  Larvae for all five species are pelagic -- they float in the water subject to ocean currents and other environmental factors.  The fundamental question for each species is the relationship between larval source and settlement and recruitment to the fishery.   This is particularly important for species where fishermen are involved in enhancement:  clams, lobster, scallops and urchins. 

  •       Nearshore oceanography:  Recent advances in offshore oceanography in the Gulf of Maine have improved our understanding of the system.  Complimentary advances need to be made in understanding very fine scale, nearshore physical (currents), chemical (water quality), and biological (life stage and behavior) processes to understand coastal ecosystem dynamics.   

  •       Life history and behavior:  For all of the species discussed science cannot yet fully describe the process that starts with reproduction and results in an adult occurring in a particular location.  Fundamental information about growth rates is essential for understanding population size structures and size at first reproduction.  Migration and behavioral information is key for several species. 

  •       Social and economic impacts:  Questions include the importance of the mix of coastal fisheries to Maine's coastal communities, the impact of the loss of flexibility caused by federal regulations, and planning for downturn contingencies in lobster. 

  •       Local management:  Collaborative research and the ability to ask questions and get answers on a local scale are critical infrastructure for local management and responsibility and will make multi-species and ecosystem management far more practical.  Numerous questions exist about governance and process. 

At every meeting, participants articulated the value of research that is collaborative with fishermen at all stages from hypothesis formation to analysis of the results.  Participants were interested in an ecosystem or at least a multi-species approach to research questions.  Many questions are local, place-based; support was expressed for building on existing research, especially in bays such as Cobscook, Penobscot, and Casco.  The importance of cross-border collaboration with Canada was stressed.  

The state will use this research priority setting process to seek new funds for answering these important marine questions and to stimulate research that is collaborative with industry and independent researchers.  By publicizing the questions and the research context both in print and on the Internet, the state hopes to stimulate work on these questions from both traditional and non-traditional sources of expertise and funding.  Finally, this work is not something that can be done only once.  The incredibly productive results of this first research priority setting process signal the importance of making this an ongoing effort, done collaboratively with the fishing industry, state managers, and the independent scientific community. 


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