The Eastern Maine Skipper's Program is an effort to provide aspiring commercial fishermen (and of course fisherwomen!) in schools up and down the Maine coast with the skills needed to be successful fishermen into the 21st century- on the water and on shore. Commercial fishing in Maine is facing challenges and pressures that require more than traditional fishing knowledge to solve- the low boat prices paid to lobstermen in 2008 and 2012, climate change, and ever increasing regulatory pressures are excellent examples of such problems. Students who intend to become commercial fishermen would benefit from an educational program that would teach them how to be flexible and adaptive fishermen, responsive to an ever-changing fishery, ecosystem, and economy. There is already a strong, informal educational program in place to teach these future fishermen how to fish. Schools don't need to teach aspiring fishermen how to fish but rather how to be entrepreneurs who can hold their own in conversations with researchers and policymakers, with a broader sense of their industry than selling their haul at the fish pier.
The Eastern Maine Skipper's Program is envisioned from the start as a regionalized program, with students in high schools from North Haven to Eastport remaining in their schools and participating in the program via technology-based "anytime, anywhere" learning. Equally important, the program will be fully aligned to state and national standards, ensuring that students who participate will graduate high school with the same rigorous academic preparation as other students and are prepared to enter a commercial fishery and college- not just one or the other.
honoring, recognizing, and building on traditional values and knowledge within the local fishing economy and way of life, students
Relevance is critical. Creating a learning environment where academic knowledge and skills are placed in the context of issues facing the fishing industry is key to shifting the perception that education is a valuable resource for staying viable, if not profitable, in the industry. Flexibility in content delivery, staffing, and assessment will be considered and embedded in program design. Commercial fishing is after all, a business that relies on harvesting in ever changing weather, resource and economic conditions. Therefore the culture of the preparation should mirror the realities of the profession!
Application of standards. Striving to create learning opportunities that utilize industry and community examples of the core academic knowledge and skills is critical. Student engagement and retention will only be strengthened by the demonstration and practice of standards in real life situations.
Empowerment through knowledge. To solve issues facing the commercial fishing industry, the fishermen need to be able to sit and discuss issues that affect their livelihood and the environment as equal and validated partners at the policy table. Fishermen may be out-flanked at the table if they lack any of the skills of which the others share. Preparing high school students with skills to participate in more focused communication, experimental design, data gathering and analysis and small business advocacy will go a long way toward bridging the gap at the policy table. This will be especially true if these young fishermen, adequately prepared, actively participate in public debate on fisheries issues in a state with a voluntary legislature.