Pandemic fuels talk of cruise ship cap to ease crowding; but air quality also a major concern …

“NICE TO HAVE THE TOWN BACK …”

Bar Harbor explores bans on cruise ship visits for 2021

SOMESVILLE, Dec. 18, 2020 – Before the pandemic shut the industry down, Bar Harbor hosted some of the worst polluting cruise ships in the world. Yet as the town re-considers its cruise ship policy going forward, environmental concerns have been given scant attention.

The ships are often anchored less than a mile from one of the most environmentally sensitive places in the country, Acadia National Park, which runs propane-fired buses to protect air quality in the park.

Yet, last year 158 ships and hundreds of tender boats bellowed an incalculable amount of noxious and toxic pollution into the entire area around Frenchmen’s Bay.

Many of the 11 towns in the Frenchman Bay Partners, a regional environmental group, have voiced concern about the impact of cruise ships in Bar Harbor, said the group’s president Jane Disney, who is the lone scientist on the Bar Harbor Cruise Ship committee. “Many towns are affected but only one benefits,” she said.

They worry about potential spills and air pollution, she said.

The carbon footprint of a cruise ship passenger is three times that of someone on land. One cruise ship can emit as much pollution as 700 trucks and as much particulate matter as a million cars, according to Forbes Magazine. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/04/26/cruise-ship-pollution-is-causing-serious-health-and-environmental-problems/?sh=398521fb37db

“A single engine on a cruise or cargo ship is large enough that, if it were based
on land, would be considered a major source and require mandatory emission controls,” the Maine Department of Environmental Protection stated in its study on air emissions from Maine vessels in January 2020. “Even marine engines built to today’s standards could potentially emit as much pollution (on an annual basis) as Maine’s largest utility.

Cruise ship operators are being urged to fit filters to reduce air pollution emissions | Credit: NABU
Cruise ship operators are being urged to fit filters to reduce air pollution emissions | Credit: NABU

“This combined with the potential growth in cargo and cruise ship traffic and the need to address regional haze prevents the Department from disregarding marine vessels as a potentially important air emissions source.”

Imagine the reaction from Friends of Acadia if a company wanted to build an incinerator in Seal Harbor, or a 1,000-room hotel on Schoodic Point, or a restaurant with 500 seats overlooking Eagle Lake? That is essentially what Bar Harbor has allowed for more than 30 years – huge mobile polluters parked about a Tiger Woods two-iron shot away from a national treasure.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth issued a report card earlier this year on major cruisers, including 10 companies which send ships to Bar Harbor. Eight of the 10 received failing grades for air pollution reduction, meaning they have not adopted industry recommended improvements.

Transport & Environment, a group which promotes sustainable travel, published an analysis of major European ports earlier this year and showed air pollutants generated by ships versus cars. https://www.transportenvironment.org/press/luxury-cruise-giant-emits-10-times-more-air-pollution-sox-all-europe%E2%80%99s-cars-%E2%80%93-study

It found that 47 of Carnival Corp.’s ships docked in Europe emitted 10 times more sulfur than all the passenger cars in Europe. While Carnival vigorously disputed the report, the company can’t deny it has been convicted of environmental crimes multiple times in recent years. No such study exists in the United States but the parallels remain the same.

Ships burn the lowest quality of fuel, and they burn a lot of it. Cruise operators have been urged to switch to cleaner fuel alternatives with a lower sulfur content, but few have heeded these calls, according to Forbes.

“Safer fuel, such as liquefied natural gas, is more expensive and operators have favored using scrubbers, which have been called “emission cheat” systems. These scrubbers wash cheap fuel in order to meet environmental standards, but then discharge the pollutants collected directly into the ocean.”

There are new technologies, such as onboard incineration plants, recycling programs, and less polluting fuel. “However, without homogenized standards and strictly enforced international rules, the cruise and shipping industry is likely to continue side-stepping many of the possible solutions,” Forbes said.

There are two air emission monitors on MDI but Acadia biologist William Gawley doubted that they adequately measure cruise ship emissions. “The issue is we get the whole mess” – all emissions – from trucks to cars to boats. There’s no ability to distinguish the source. Also, the monitoring station on McFarland Hill is probably too far from the ships in Bar Harbor.

Gawley said he’s read much about the pollution caused by cruise ships. “It’s pretty horrendous.” The best way to measure emissions is to perform tests on the ships themselves, using instruments such as the TSI P-Trak Ultrafine Particle Counter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXjtQu_Nco0

Then there is the issue of the hundreds of trips by tenders ferrying passengers from the ships. “You can see the smoke from the tenders,” said Jane Disney. “The pollution is terrible.”

Water quality is less of an issue because most ships do not discharge in harbors. Disney has been monitoring water quality in area harbors since 2005 and is grateful we have not had a significant spill. But only two weeks ago 5,000 pounds of shredded plastic trash from Northern Ireland headed for an incinerator in Orono spilled into Penobscot Bay and washed ashore on Sears Island.

Consider that L.L. Bean has been sponsoring the Island Explorer buses on MDI since 1999 to help reduce air pollution with clean, propane-fired buses only to have another industry compromise its good work by parking 158 floating cities over 106 days in Bar Harbor bellowing some of the worst air pollutants made by man.

This week Bar Harbor council members said they heard enough from residents and took matters into their own hands, steam-rolling the standing cruise ship committee, to deal directly with the complaints about the hoards of passengers.

There is a “jaded perception,” Councilman Joseph Minutolo said, that the cruise ship committee will only serve the interest of the industry. It’s not capable of “an unbiased view,” he said. Except for two at-large members, the police chief, harbormaster, Acadia representative and Jane Disney, the 14-member committee is dominated by people who have benefitted financially from the cruise ship industry. The chairman operates the tender business for Ocean Properties Inc., which is the largest hotel owner in Bar Harbor.

By a vote of 4-2 the council voted to survey of residents on whether to impose a ban on ships, a cap on ships (or passengers) or continue to allow ship visits in its existing scope, to conduct a public hearing on the questions and to vote on the issue next June.

“In this situation I want unbiased, a fresh outlook going forward, not the normal channels like we’ve been doing it,” Minutolo said. The cruise ship committee members “are not policy generators,” he said. “They are about passenger movement. They are about making the system more efficient. They’re about being able to generate and process more people. We’re the policy makers.”

Councilman Gary Friedmann, who made the motion which passed, said he is not in favor of a total ban but that he’s heard from many residents who liked the shutdown of the cruise ships wrought by the pandemic. “It’s nice to have the town back,” he was told.

Thus far the discussion has centered around overcrowding and impact on the local economy.

The environmental impact of the cruise ships has not been discussed much in any of the meetings. That would first require a discovery of facts which does not exist. For instance, the TSI P-Trak Ultrafine Particle Counter is a $4,000 instrument. How many of those would be needed to measure air pollution caused by the ships and who would fund it? Once a baseline has been determined, ships may be required to prove that they are in compliance with new rules promulgated this year to cut sulfer emissions by 85 percent.

As of Jan. 1, 2020, as part of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (referred to as MARPOL), sulfur emissions must be reduced from 3.5 percent of total mass to 0.5 percent. Since the industry has been dormant because of the pandemic, it’s anyone’s guess how many ships will be in compliance when they return to operation.

Bar Harbor can be a gold standard port, requiring visiting ships to comply with those standards.

Banning cruise ships outright doesn’t seem a likely prospect. But capping the number of ships doesn’t address the air quality problem which is immense and affects more than just Bar Harbor.

A return to normalcy in 2021?

SOMESVILLE, Dec. 15, 2020 – If there is optimism about next year you wouldn’t know it by driving around the island. Stalwarts such Havana and McKay’s Public House, which provided a warm hearth for locals for many years, have closed early.

“Losing a little money would be okay (justified by keeping some folks employed, keeping some people fed, etc.) but losing a lot of money each week just doesn’t make sense,” Havana owner Michael Boland posted on Facebook. Havana will offer take-out boxes for New Year’s Eve but “we find that we’re just not a to-go kind of place,” Boland stated. Havana is planning to re-open April 1.

Businesses “with good roots will emerge and re-open,” said Tony McKim, president of First National Bank in Bar Harbor. He worried about new businesses with “moderately strong business plans” but without a cushion of working capital.

McKim said MDI business had a “decent August and a good September” but then reverted to a down draft as Covid cases rose in the fall. Alf Anderson, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said this is the time of the year when businesses need to build inventory for next year and make repairs if necessary to equipment and that he fears some just won’t have the resources.

The plight of small businesses on MDI mirrors that of the attendance numbers in Acadia National Park – a 20-25 percent decline. The late surge in visitors in November was welcoming but made up a small percentage of overall annual attendance.

Eben Salvatore, chair of the cruise ship committee in Bar Harbor, took an informal poll of local banks recently and was alarmed by his findings. One bank, he said, handled $13 million in federal Payroll Protection loans and $64 million in mortgage deferrals on MDI. “Those are Wall Street numbers in our little town of Bar Harbor, so things are not fine.”

Salvatore works for Ocean Properties Inc., which operates a tender service for the cruise ships, and has a vested interest in painting a dark economic scenario which can be only rescued by, drum roll, MORE CRUISE SHIPS!

“The vaccine drives everything,” said McKim, expressing the hope that the second half of 2021 will return to some normalcy and that the Covid-19 vaccine will do it job.

Meanwhile, Southwest Harbor is the liveliest place on MDI, with two new restaurants, Hearth and Harbor and Next Level Sports Bar, testing the winter market, and Sips holding its own, although it will close for 10 days starting Dec. 21. Peter Trout on Manset’s Shore Road is offering takeout Friday through Sundays.

More personnel hassles for SWH; town offices to limit hours for last week of year

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Dec. 15, 2020 – Add the deputy town clerk, deputy tax collector and registrar of voters to the recent list of town vacancies. Debbie Clark, who did all those jobs, is leaving to take a position with the water and sewer commission.

This has resulted in the closing of town offices the week after Christmas to licensing and registration services except for Dec. 30. Town Manager Justin VanDongen announced the news at the selectmen’s meeting Dec. 8, which promoted a testy exchange between him and selectman George Jellison Jr.

“I don’t see any way we can close that office,” Jellison said, challenging VanDongen’s recommendation. “I assume Justin that you can register cars and such and take tax payments … I assume Jesse can too (code enforcement office Jesse Dunbar)?

“I mean that’s the last year-end people pay their taxes before the first of the year to get deductions for the year … That’s not acceptable to me to close the town office the last week between Christmas and New Year.”

“Is Justin certified?” Jellison said in asking whether VanDongen was a certified motor vehicle agent.

“I’m not a motor vehicle agent, no,” VanDogen replied.

“What’s the problem?” Jellison asked. “You should be.”

“It would be the first time I’ve ever heard wanting a town manager to be certified as a DMV agent,” VanDongen said. “If it’s something the board would like, I’d be happy to do it. I think it would be a waste of my time, but it’s up to you guys.”

After more conversation, the board approved VanDongen’s recommendation 5-0, including a yes vote from Jellison.

The town has since posted on its website:

“The week of December 28th, the office will be open for Code Enforcement with regular hours.  The lobby will be closed to business all week except for Wednesday December 30th.  We will close on New Year’s eve at 3:00 P.M. and be closed New Year’s Day.”

In addition to Debbie Clark, the town has vacancies for the harbormaster and deputy harbormaster positions. Recently, the town voiced concern at the inability of the local ambulance service, a private entity, to fully staff 24-7 calls.

Jellison could not reached for comment.

‘Bio Blitz 2021′ seeks to reprise Harvard Kids’ study of MDI species

SOMESVILLE, Dec. 12, 2020 – In some ways they were typical young men in their late teens or early twenties. They jousted for bragging rights. They teased each other relentlessly. They were competitive. But they were a very special cohort – a dozen or so Harvard students – which for almost 10 years during the end of the 19th century made it an annual rite to study MDI’s voluminous bounty of things alive.

Not unlike Charles Darwin’s work on the Galapagos Islands, the Champlain Society – as they called themselves, or “the Harvard kids” as others called them – studied and documented insects, birds, fish, plants, geology, hydrology and meteorology, as chronicled by Catherine Schmitt and Maureen Fournier: https://friendsofacadia.org/the-champlain-society-transcriptions/.

Led by their captain, Charles Eliot, son of Harvard president Charles W. Eliot, they trekked all over the region and sailed the waters off Frenchman’s Bay and beyond. They lived in tents, fished, hunted and played whist by the light of a campfire. Most importantly, they wrote everything down in notebooks bound by string.

They left future scientists a trove of knowledge and information . Their commitment to nature helped build the modern-day conservation movement and the creation of Acadia National Park.

Now, a group of MDI’s most distinguished institutions is organizing a “bio blitz” in 2021 to activate an army of MDI volunteers to collect species in the footsteps of the Champlain Society.

The gathered data “will be analyzed against historic data to better understand the impacts of climate change, including invasive and extinct species, and warming water temperature,” said MDI Historical society Executive Director Raney Bench.

MDIHS is collaborating with the Schoodic Institute, College of the Atlantic, Acadia National Park, A Climate to Thrive and the MDI BioLab to host this blitz.

In 1880 Charles Eliot and fellow Harvard classmates sailed his father’s yacht Sunshine on the first of what became many annual expeditions to MDI. The Eliot family had spent summers here since Charles was young. This photo of the yacht was taken July 20, 1881 by Marshall P. Slade, a member of the group. (Photographs courtesy Mount Desert Island Historical Society)

MDIHS is seeking volunteers to help map historic data, “which will then be converted by COA students into digital story maps as a graphic layering of data that shows change over time,” Raney Bench said. “New observations collected in 2021 will be added at the end of next year, creating a unique document that can be added to in the future.”

The 2021 project is called Landscape of Change.

“Working with the maps, we will train residents, visitors, and students to collect and record observations as citizen scientists. These new observations will be added to the story map,” Bench said. “At the end of 2021, a year of observations taken in all seasons will give a clear picture of change over time which can be used to better understand island ecosystems. This record will be an important benchmark for people in the future.”

Here are examples of a story map … https://usfs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=a4babe8e2fe849739171e6824930459e

https://coagis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=e48489718ccd4715a66be5e264abe81a

The island non-profit A Climate to Thrive will lend support throughout 2021, making this data relevant to MDI communities and coordinating conversations about how it can inform conservation and preservation efforts in the future.

MDIHS is simultaneously raising funding for the second phase of data analysis to be done by scientists at the Schoodic Institute. “We would need two rounds, one when all the historic data is complete and mapped, which hopefully will be in early winter 2021, and another after the bio-blitzs are complete at the end of 2021,” Raney Bench said. “I will be using this project as an example of the importance and relevance of history in the hopes it will engage new donors and grant support throughout the year to underwrite both the costs of the project and in support of MDI HS’s budget.” She is hoping to raise $18,000.

Harvard President Charles W. Eliot understood that the sheer beauty of MDI was a gift which demanded a commitment and a responsibility to keep its virginal state as uncompromised as possible. Eliot found this purpose circuitously. His first wife died at Age 33 of tuberculosis leaving him with two young sons.

In 1871, two years after her death and after he was named president of Harvard, he told friends he needed a break.

That July he loaded his two sons and a few friends onto a 33-foot sloop with camping gear and headed Down East for waypoints along Maine’s coastline.

“They reached Portland in a day, then sailed on to anchorages in Herring Gut and the Deer Isle Thorofare. As they made Bass Harbor Light on the third day out, the fog cleared away. They passed Long Ledge and Great Cranberry Island and sailed into Southwest Harbor,” wrote Catherine Schmitt in https://maineboats.com/print/issue-129/influenced-nature. They then encamped on Calf Island with a westward view of Mount Desert.

Eliot had re-married in 1877 and was the first “rusticator” to build a summer home in Northeast Harbor.

“In the spring of 1880, the elder Eliot announced that he and his second wife, Grace, would be traveling in Europe for the summer,” historian Schmitt wrote. “He offered the yacht and camping gear to Charles and Sam, then students at Harvard College, who jumped at the chance to sail downeast and camp on Mt. Desert Island. The younger Charles invited friends and classmates to be part of an expedition, in which each member would “do some work in some branch of natural history or science.”

“Champlain Society members chose which “specialty” or department they would contribute to: collecting flowers for the botanical department, dredging for marine invertebrates, shooting birds for the ornithology department, recording the weather from their meteorological station, or surveying geology.”

The 2021 edition of MDIHS’s Chebacco Magazine will feature annotated excerpts from the 1880-1882 Champlain Society logbooks. Chebacco was a two-masted boat, the kind that brought Abe Somes to settle on MDI in 1761. You may read the logs on the society’s website … https://mdihistory.org/research/champlain-society-resources/

WARNING: The logs are an addictive read. QSJ whiled away many hours poring over the pages of the notebooks and romanticized vicariously of camping without any of the appurtenances of today’s nauseating concept of “glamping.”

Gathering sweet grass by Wabanakis not just about harvesting plants

Bass Harbor Marsh

BASS HARBOR, Dec. 12, 2020 – The Wabanaki peoples had been harvesting sweet grass from the marshes here for millennia, until about a century ago when the National Park Service made it illegal for anyone to take vegetation out of the parks even though rituals and cultural practices dependent on the plants had been handed down for generations.

“Sweetgrass is part of creation narratives, and figures prominently in fiber arts and ceremonies,” wrote Amanda Marie Ellis in a paper for the University of Maine in 2016, the same year the Park Service began to reconsider its restriction on plant harvesting by indigenous peoples. Sweetgrass is also used to make Wabanaki baskets. “Wabanaki basketry traditions are an important part of cultural heritage, sovereignty, and economic survival,” she wrote.

Since then, several parks have granted indigenous people harvesting permits, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which now allows Cherokee Indians to gather Sochan, a relative of the sunflower.

The Wabanakis are still on just a research permit, but the group of 15 indigenous persons who are participating in an experiment to allow native harvesting of plants in Acadia already are feeling “a level of comfort” with the framework and funding of the project, said forestry experts helping the tests in Acadia.

Michelle Baumfleck, a research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, said the experiment “has mobilized indigenous people to engage” in the process. A legal expert on the cross section of indigenous and traditional intellectual property, NYU professor Jane Anderson, has been recruited to develop protocols to guide future interactions.

“The fact that they hired a lawyer to look into their interest makes them feel protected and valued,” said Baumfleck of the Wabanaki participants.

Baumfleck and Susanne Greenlaw, a forestry scientist at UMaine, must now take the harvest data and put it on paper which will form the basis for an environmental assessment on the effects of the harvesting. But so far, Baumfleck said the results have been “quite positive.”

They both gave a shoutout to Rebecca Cole-Will, chief of resource management at Acadia National Park, for her support and positive guidance. While the process is long, Greenlaw said they are aiming for more than just a single publication on sweet grass permitting. The “participatory process will lead to understanding equity in science, how to engage native people who are harvesting and gathering” and to ensure stakeholders have a long-term commitment to the principles of native harvesting.

Gabriel and Gal Frey collecting sweetgrass

In 2018, Maine Public Radio featured Gal Frey and her son Gabriel collecting sweetgrass here, doing something no one else were allowed to do. https://www.mainepublic.org/post/wabanaki-basketmakers-want-show-harvesting-sweetgrass-can-be-sustainable

“Sweetgrass is still here, and the Wabanaki people have been harvesting for thousands of years, right? So the evidence is there,” said Gabriel Frey. “But our dominant society says without quantifiable data, that’s not true.”

“I want to come back here every year,” said Gal Frey. “And I already know what I need to do in order to ensure my part. So I get what I want, I will take care of it so it’s going to be here next year. It’s not that difficult to figure it out.”

A complicating factor on MDI is the growing number of abutting private land. Some native gatherers crossing private land have been met with hostility and threats. This has prompted suggestions of “variations of owner agreements” to allow for “cultural easements.”

It would not be the first time the Wabanaki tribes have had to negotiate access and to fend off unwelcoming scourges.

In the early 17th century, 90 percent of the Wabanaki died from transplanted diseases, including smallpox, cholera and influenza, and conflicts with English, French and Dutch explorers.

“Having lost most of their relatives and neighbors, Wabanaki survivors joined other decimated
groups and restructured their social lives,” according to “Asticou Island Domain,” an ethnographic study done for the National Park Service. “Their existence was made all the more complicated because of fur trade competition and the colonial scramble for empire.” https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/acad/wabanaki_peoples_vol1.pdf

Given that hardened history, the collecting of sweet grass sounds pretty benign.

Food pantries head into winter with more demand than ever

SOMESVILLE, Dec. 10, 2020 – The Bar Harbor Food Pantry, which serves all of Hancock County, has seen an increase of 32 percent in “clients” needing food, or 800 households – an increase of 250.

“And we’re headed into our hardest season – January and February,” said Executive Director Jennifer Jones.

Unlike previous years where the number of households “tends to hold steady” with 40-50 increasing or decreasing, the pandemic has brought on the current surge in demand for food. The pantry is still feeling the effects of a “poor tourist season,” she said.

Not letting a crisis go to waste, the food pantry – like many businesses – has learned to alter its practices, offering “self choice,” taking orders and launching a “Fresh Food Fridays” program, a farmers market of sorts where folks may pick up vegetables available at the end of each week.

Cash donation is the best way to support the food pantry, of course, but Jennifer Jones said spreading the word would also be beneficial. The Bar Harbor Food Pantry was first established as an emergency agency for food in a Sunday School room in the basement of the First Baptist Church. In 1994, Bar Harbor’s six churches expanded the program and the pantry opened its doors May 19, 1994, operating in the basement of the First Baptist Church. 

In 1996, board member Marianne Barnicle, came to lead the organization as executive director. “She turned our organization into the non-profit agency it is today. She brought a spirit and enthusiasm to the organization that still resonates in its current supporters, volunteers and clients,” the pantry said on its website.

“The BHFP now had the capacity to purchase and store food. This growth allowed us to become a partner agency with Good Shepherd Food Bank (state of Maine’s largest food relief agency). The pantry also was able to qualify for government support of 5 free shipments of food each year from the US Department of Agriculture.”

Here are the links to the food pantry and other food banks on MDI. Please give generously.

https://www.barharborfoodpantry.org/donations/

https://www.opentablemdi.org/donate/

https://westsidefoodpantry.org/

http://www.commongoodsoupkitchen.org/

Conservationists seek emergency intervention to save Right Whales, remove fishing rope entanglements

EG Baleine noire empetree

BASS HARBOR, Dec. 3, 2020 – The early morning stillness at the dock here last month was disturbed only by the cranking of Cummins and Volvo engines. As the lobster boats headed out, the crews already had prepped for all risks, especially weather. But the gathering storm is not a meteorological one.

By next June the entire Maine fleet of lobstermen could be facing stringent regulations – and potential fisheries closure – similar to that in Canada and Cape Cod. That’s when the federal government is expected to toughen its efforts to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. Conservation groups successfully sued the federal fisheries agency and the lobster industry, and in April a judge ordered stiffer regulations to be developed by May 31, 2021.

But conservationists are not waiting for the court-imposed deadline. This week they petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to take emergency action to protect the endangered whales.

They were alarmed by the latest population count of Right Whales and are upping the ante in their battle against the lobster industry. Last month, new scientific data pegged the population count of living Right Whales at 356 – down from more than 400 a year ago. It also showed only about 70 breeding females left. In 10 years, the species has suffered a 25 percent decline.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation and Defenders of Wildlife were among the groups that filed the emergency petition under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Administrative Procedure Act. 

When the May 31 date was set in August by the federal judge, The Maine Lobstermen’s Association immediately declared victory.

“We are thrilled that the court will not shut down the lobster fishery or agree to an unprecedented request to designate a massive new closure area unsupported by science and unvetted by the stakeholder process. The MLA is so grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support that enabled our legal team to educate the court about the lobster industry’s long-standing and successful efforts to protect right whales and the economic devastation that would result from a shutdown of the fishery,” stated MLA’s executive director, Patrice McCarron.

MLA was trying to bolster a legal defense fund and the stay of the Feb. 1 date to May 31 was certainly a boost.

Maine may yet escape the biggest onslaught of regulatory oversight. The Gulf of Maine has so far not been a hotspot associated with Right Whale migration in the same manner as Cape Cod and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. Moreover, the federal judge who found NOAA Fishery guilty of not executing the Endangered Specifies Act voiced sympathy for how important the industry was to Maine. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association wrote an excellent summary of his ruling Aug. 19:

https://mainelobstermen.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MLA-Understanding-Judge-Boasberg-August-19-Order_2020.08.20.pdf?x20246

But what is the long-term reality? And does the new population count of Right Whales shift the political equation?

“There is a myth that Maine would like people to believe – that there are no Right Whales in Maine,” said Jane Davenport, chief counsel for the plaintiffs. “Their views are not based in science.”

“The feeding ground for Right Whales keeps shifting,” she said. “It is absolutely passing through Maine waters .. these are tricky, dark animals with no dorsal fins .. they are moving northward and they are hard to spot.”

“There were at least two, and maybe three confirmed accounts of different individual right whales in Maine waters this summer, close enough inshore that within the photographs you can distinguish people’s homes on the shore,” said Sean Todd, marine biologist at the College of the Atlantic. “For a much larger population, seeing one or two whales inshore would not be an issue. But we are now dealing with a population with less than 100 reproductively active females. Every whale counts at this point.

“The decrease in population size is alarming and of great concern … What we need are solutions that can be applied immediately, solutions that fishermen are willing to implement,” Todd added. “Unfortunately the issue has become highly politicized, with too much polarization and misinformation.”

MDI lobstermen scoffed when asked on a Facebook lobstermen’s group whether anyone has tested “ropeless” fishing technology. One wrote that by even asking the question QSJ demonstrated an ignorance about the industry. But the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor has been testing such gear to moderate success. Capt. Toby Stephenson, who skippers the college’s research boat Osprey, said of the ropeless gear. “It works. The acoustic release works.”

Marine scientist Zack Klyver, who grew up in Eastport and worked for 30 years as a whale watch naturalist guiding whale tours on the Gulf of Maine, said he is trying to make headway with Maine lobstermen to test ropeless traps but there is a overriding “fear and apprehension.”

“There are things constantly coming at them (lobstermen) .. plus, they have had 10 years of 5 to 10 percent increases in catch and profit … some are making $200,000. It’s a very conservative group and change happens slowly.”

Klyver was aboard the Osprey for 10 days in early fall when they deployed 60 ropeless traps and were able to retrieve all but three. “And two were from human error when we failed to open the tank for air.”

Most ropeless gear requires an acoustic signal to be sent to the trap at the bottom releasing inflatable bladders or other floats to bring the trap or a rope tethered to traps to the surface. “It’s not 100 percent reliable but it works,” said Stephenson. Part of the challenge, though, is that the bottom of the Gulf of Maine tends to be rockier than than other fisheries and the traps will not rest easily on the bottom. On such trap was wedged i n between rocks and could not surface.

But with economies of scale and more research, Todd, Klyver and Stephenson firmly believe that new technologies can be made economically effective.

“All we need is a commitment to research and development—would anyone have thought what we can now do with cell phones possible 15 years ago?” said Todd.

Canada, California and Massachusetts fishermen have been testing ropeless technology ever since their fisheries were closed for long periods as a result of Right Whale migration in their waters.

“Maine lobstermen have been fishing for generations but they adapted to new technologies as they came along. Their fathers and grandfathers used manila rope which rotted and broke. They didn’t have poly steel rope then,” Davenport said.

But Maine’s obstinacy has given Canada and Cape Cod a head start on research and development. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution recently received a $900,000 grant from Seaworld Busch Gardens Conservation Fund to create a gear library where fishermen could borrow ropeless traps to test. The number of testers in Canada is approaching 1,000.

The Cape Cod Times published an excellent summary of the current testing of ropeless technology a month ago … https://www.capecodtimes.com/story/news/2020/11/01/ropeless-gear-could-help-right-whales-and-fishermen/6101826002/

By May 31, the federal agency also known as NOAA Fisheries must submit new regulations for the fishing of lobsters off the Maine coast and other jurisdictions for public review and comment. It also must consider the environmental impact of such proposed regulations. That’s a lot of work by May 31, and so far they haven’t released even the most rudimentary plan.

This is not good news for Maine Lobstermen.

“Four out of every five North Atlantic right whales has suffered from entanglement at least once,” said Davenport. “Yet the government refuses to act as an entire species teeters on the brink of extinction. We must give these whales some breathing room in the areas where they feed and mate, oblivious to the dense maze of entangling fishing lines surrounding them.” 

Entanglements are the leading cause of skyrocketing rates of right whale deaths and serious injuries and are also preventing them from reproducing, pushing calving rates to historic lows, Davenport claimed. 

“North Atlantic right whales are in crisis, and these critically endangered animals need protection from deadly entanglements now,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal officials need to immediately prohibit the use of vertical fishing lines in the whales’ important habitat areas.”

The petition for emergency action filed this week could be a political tactic to gain more awarenness with the federal enforcers and the judge who extended the deadline to May 31.

The petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to find that entanglements in the vertical buoy lines used in commercial fisheries are having an immediate and significant adverse impact on right whales and to issue emergency regulations to address that impact. This includes closing waters off Southern New England to trap/pot and gillnet gear. 

How did the federal government get slapped with a guilty finding of non-compliance with the Endangered Species Act? Perhaps it’s because the entire Maine Congressional delegation has been lobbying the Feds to back off what it calls unfair treatment of Maine’s lobster industry.

In a continuation of their strong, bipartisan advocacy for fair treatment of Maine’s lobster industry, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, urging him to take action to protect Maine’s lobster industry from unfairly burdensome regulations as the U.S. seeks to protect the right whale population,” the delegation stated in late 2019.

“The Maine lobster fishery has repeatedly made significant improvements to their practices and modifications to their gear to protect right whales, including the implementation of weak link mandates in 1997 and again in 2007,” Senators Collins and King and Representatives Pingree and Golden wrote.  “Notably, there have been no entanglements directly attributed to Maine lobster gear in more than 15 years. Further, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) data demonstrates that ropes removed from right whales in recent years are not typical of those used in Maine’s lobster fishery.”

“The state of Maine is doing nothing. There is no research, no funding” for any alternatives to using ropes lines to fish, Klyver said. He has been trying to convince Marine Resources Director Patrick Keliher to consider testing ropeless technology, “but he’s been very hostile to the idea,” Klyver said.

QSJ’s baked beans flop; historical society to the rescue with recipes

SOMESVILLE, Dec. 4, 2020 – I attempted to make baked beans myself, after Mainely Meats BBQ closed for the season, but made a total mess of it. Or more precisely, I made a total mush of it. I cooked the beans too long. Every time I tasted the beans it felt under-cooked so I just kept going.

Luckily, there will be a cookbook out soon for errant bean counters like me.

MDIslander file photo shows Mount Desert Island residents choosing from more than a dozen varieties of baked beans at a supper held by the Mount Desert Island Historical Society. 

This year the Mount Desert Historical Society is going virtual with its annual baked beans supper. In lieu of the usual $10 donation, the organizers are aggregating a digital cookbook to commemorate the recipes enjoyed over the past 10 years. “We are charging $10 for the Cookbook in PDF format. We hope to have them available for purchase in the beginning of January, ” said Leah Lucey, director of operations.

In the past the supper was held at MDI High School in the cafeteria and sponsored by Hannaford. Members of the community volunteered to bring a pot of beans, a side, a pie, or cookies. Volunteers were coordinated by Bill Horner, President of MDI Historical Society and more recently the addition of Kathy MacLeod, chair of the Program Committee. MDI High School staff and students volunteered to help us as well. After the dinner, attendees would enjoy a historic presentation in the auditorium.

This year the society is attempting to host an event by Zoom. A date, Jan. 28, has been targeted although details need to be sorted out.

“The bean supper has become an important community event over the past 10 years, drawing almost 200 people out on a cold January night to share food and stories,” said Raney Bench, executive director. “Cancelling it as an in-person event was a difficult, although necessary, decision. So, in trying to recreate the spirit of community and connection people love about the event, we wanted to draw on the long held winter tradition of storytelling, bringing people together to listen to old tales and traditions told by really great narrators. 
“For speakers we have Dennis Damon, Earl Brechlin, Sharon Joyce, and Bill Horner. As I mentioned, we are inviting people to pick up the cookbook and try a recipe on the night of the virtual event. People will be invited to share their own cooking and bean supper stories through the Chat feature. 

Raney said Bill Horner, founder of the baked bean supper, is renowned for his knowledge and passion of beans in Downeast Maine.

“Bill will speak about the different varieties of beans common to the region, how they came to be so popular, and some of the health benefits they offer. Sharon Joyce is a local chef and author of ‘A Culinary History of Downeast Maine’ and she will talk to us about the various bean recipes that are traditional in the region, including ingredients and preparation. Dennis Damon is a renowned storyteller and local islander who served as a representative to the state for several years. He is well versed in local story. He is an expert on community fishing culture and industry, and the works of Ruth Moore and how she projected small island life in her books. Earl Brechlin is an author, historian and journalist who has written extensively about the history of the region’s people and environment. Earl’s latest book ‘Wild! Weird! Wonderful! Maine.’ was released earlier this year and perfectly captures the tradition of Maine storytelling, sharing myths, legends, lore, and truth from Maine’s strange past.”

I hope someone will tell me how long to cook the beans.