Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

February 1, 2022

Leader of Stonington fisheries nonprofit reflects on career, lessons learned

person smiling on shorefront Courtesy / Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries Paul Anderson will retire from the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington after helping to implement a collaborative approach called ecosystem-based fisheries management.

With the upcoming retirement of its executive director, the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington last week launched a search for a new leader (see sidebar).

Paul Anderson has led the nonprofit since 2018.  Previously, he served 16 years as director of the Maine Sea Grant College Program, where he oversaw commercial fisheries, aquaculture, coastal community development, ecosystem health and coastal resiliency.

He also served as research network director of the Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network and director of the Aquaculture Research Network at the University of Maine; and held multiple positions within the Department of Marine Resources. His three-decade career has brought him across Maine and to Ireland, South Africa, Namibia, the Philippines and China. 

Founded in 2003, the center brings together fishermen and harvesters, scientists, policy makers, business and community leaders, and citizens to create and implement solutions for communities whose livelihoods depend on fisheries, aquaculture and the seafood economy. 

We asked Anderson for his perspective on the challenges and opportunities for coastal fishery stakeholders. Here’s an edited transcript. 

Mainebiz: What drew you to a career in marine science? 

Paul Anderson: I’m trained as a microbiologist. The biology side always intrigued me. The thing that’s excited me most, in the last 20 years of my career, has been the question of how to apply science. Science isn’t just a gee-whiz opportunity. It’s about how do we use new knowledge to make better decisions? These coastal issues are all wicked problems that need science. But they also need creativity and passion and compassion. What’s really excited me is fitting into that space between science and policy and community. 

MB: Could you provide an example of how that approach plays out on a specific issue?

PA: If you look at aquaculture in Maine — that’s grown in fits and starts. As we collectively learn how to grow different kinds of fish, we make mistakes and we hopefully learn from them. Understanding the challenges of growing shellfish in Maine is not just about growing shellfish. It’s about understanding the ecosystem in terms of safety: Is it polluted or not? Is there a red tide problem or not?

The same goes for finfish. When we started growing salmon in pens, there were all kinds of trials and errors. The work at UMaine has helped figure out smarter ways to do those things by understanding diseases, understanding water quality, understanding how circulation works in the bays. I think the result is that we have a pretty vibrant and growing aquaculture industry in Maine that is smarter and more connected to science. 

MB: What drew you to the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries?

PA: The most exciting thing was something Robin [MCCF founding executive director Robin Alden] had just negotiated — to explore ecosystem-based fisheries management, called EBFM. This is the notion of not just managing one species at a time, but understanding that they relate to one another and they relate to the ecosystem and they relate to the humans who are part of that ecosystem. She had just finalized an agreement with NOAA and the DMR for MCCF to do a five-year study of what the science needs are to do EBFM in eastern Maine. I thought, ‘This is really cool.’ It seemed elusive. We read about it in textbooks, but nobody was really doing it. And here we were in a fishing port and we could let MCCF be a driver. 

We named the project the Eastern Maine Coastal Current Collaborative. It’s been pretty cool peeling that onion, figuring out what it means to have a more ecosystem-based approach. Covid has slowed us down last the last couple of years. But we’re now negoating the renewal of that agreement as another five-year commitment, to continue to explore what this could mean. 

MB: And could you elaborate on what EBFM could mean?

PA: A good example is the whale rule and the lobster fishery. [New federal regulations to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale that also impact the lobster industry.] You have several critters in the ecosystem competing for space. Each critter is trying to figure out its own existence in the ecosystem. You have whales whose migratory patterns are changing. The food web is changing and affecting the whales. The lobster resource is changing. Then you plunk fishermen in the middle of that, and you have a complex problem. You can’t solve that problem by studying whales only or by studying lobsters only. 

MB: What's an example of an application of the EBFM approach?

PA: MCCF and area partners are restoring alewives. That’s been a huge success. That began 20 years ago — taking out bad culverts, putting in better fishways. Successes here in the Bagaduce watershed are directly the work of MCCF and its partners — the fish counts are higher. The study, which we call a sentinel survey, is trying to identify whether the restored alewife population plays a significant role in the potential recovery of groundfish. We don’t have that answer yet. But results are coming in and it’s really interesting to have our finger on those kinds of ecosystem restoration successes and then try to understand their impacts in the greater marine ecosystem. 

MB: What’s MCCF’s scope of operations? 

PA: We’re based in Stonington and our mission is to help sustain commercial fisheries and the communities that depend on the fisheries in eastern Maine and beyond. Our core work is in Hancock and Washington counties. We organize our work into three areas — collaborative research, collaborative management and collaborative education. Our budget for 2022 is $1.4 million. That’s come down since I came on because I did some pruning and building efficiencies around our operations. We have a staff of 10 — my program staff of five and others who are support, administration and communications staff. Our revenue come primarily from private donors and private foundations. 

MB: Has the staff grown under your leadership?

PA: I brought in a videographer because we realized that producing imagery was critical for sharing information. For example, we have our ‘Ask Leroy’ video series. We’ve done about 20 episodes that are five to six minutes long and feature a retired fisherman, Leroy Weed. He’s a delightful fisherman with a lot of knowledge. People can call an 800 number with a question, and our videographer captures Leroy answering questions that come from all over the United States. We’ve had tens of thousands of likes. That kind of things was a strategic investment in helping us be more visible in our work. [Click here to view.]

MB: What are some challenges and opportunities you see moving forward? 

PA: The problems we work on are never going to go away. Offshore wind energy seems to be persistent. It’s going be of some scale in the future. Climate change continues to be an external driver.  The whale rule — these are complex problems. The trick is how does an organization like ours remain relevant and contribute to better answers to these problems, recognizing that you never really solve the problem. You mitigate the challenges and inform decision-making as much as possible, to either deal with the problem or fix some component, and to make sure the fisheries can continue and communities can be active. MCCF continues to be nimble and look for places to be relevant and help communities survive. 

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF