Downeast students earn passing grade from Marine Resources Commissioner for winter flounder project

More than 50 students from coastal high schools presented their preliminary findings on their winter flounder project to Maine Commissioner of Marine Resources Patrick Keliher last week.

The students were joined by two dozen local fisherman, researchers, teachers and parents at Waterman’s Community Center in North Haven. The presentation was the culminating event of the first year of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program. Last September, Commissioner Keliher assigned the students “homework,” asking them to investigate the viability of a trap-based, winter flounder fishery and report back to him this spring. “From what I have seen and heard today,” Commissioner Keliher told the students, “you’ve all passed with flying colors.”

Students have been fishing the innovative traps and collecting data on what they catch, including by-catch, since May 1. Mount Desert Island High School ninth-grade student Nicholas

Lewis was the first student to catch a flounder in the traps. “Finally, a project has come along where we can learn more about fishing while getting much more knowledge about licensing, regulations, reports, writing proposals and much more,” said Lewis.

While the students presented their preliminary findings at the event, they plan to continue experimenting with the winter flounder traps through the summer and into next fall. “I think it is amazing that students who will graduate from high school next week are going to see the project through the summer- that tells you how invested they are in the program,” said Commissioner Keliher.

As part of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program Winter Flounder Project, students studied the life history of winter flounder including prey choice, behavior, and habitat preferences; applied for and received a special license to trap winter flounder from the Department of Marine Resources Advisory Council; engineered a flounder trap to maximize the amount of legal flounder caught and minimize by-catch; and collected data that will also address the question of whether it is possible to start an economically and environmentally sustainable trap fishery in Downeast Maine.

By investigating the viability of a supplemental fishery, students had an opportunity to learn and practice important skills such as active citizenship, public speaking, interpreting and using data, and applied science and engineering that will prepare them for modern fishing careers as well as post-secondary education. The project has further application beyond their high school education, however, as students are conducting “real-world” research that fishermen and regulators can use as they seek to sustain the fishing economies which are so important to Downeast communities.

In 2012, Deer Isle Stonington High School and Penobscot East Resource Center collaborated to create the Eastern Maine Skippers Program. EMSP is a regional program which aims to provide aspiring commercial fishermen in schools from North Haven to Eastport the skills needed to be successful fishermen in a time of rapid environmental and regulatory change. A cohort of more than 40 students from Vinalhaven, North Haven, Deer Isle-Stonington, Ellsworth, MDI and Narraguagus High Schools as well as George Stevens Academy remain in their schools and collaborate in the program via technology-based “anytime, anywhere” learning. Students also meet in-person several ttimes per year to participate in events such as meetings with the Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Fishermen’s Forum.

More information about the Eastern Maine Skippers Program and the Penobscot East Resource Center can be found on their websites. Information about the Maine Department of Marine Resources can be found here.

For more information, contact Deer Isle-Stonington High School Principal Todd West at toddwest@dishs.org or 207-348-2303.