Researchers at the University of Maine are attempting to work ahead to prevent problems between one of Maine’s heritage industries and a new clean energy sector.
Over the past several years, Maine lobstermen have raised concerns about offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine and its potential to disrupt where and how they fish.
Hundreds of people in Maine’s lobster industry organized a protest in the state’s capital, Augusta, last year on the same day Gov. Janet Mills issued a moratorium on all new offshore wind development in state waters for 10 years, excluding some specific research projects. ‘
Roughly one week ago, UMaine announced it would try to "minimize" conflict by working with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and other groups to gather data on where fishing occurs, in order to inform offshore wind development.
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"Right now, published maps suggest that lobster fishing is occurring everywhere. We hope through this effort to provide more spatial specificity about the most important fishing locations — where fishermen spend more time and effort," said Kate Beard-Tisdale, a professor of spatial computing at the university who is leading this collaboration, in a statement released by UMaine.
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"This spatial specificity could result in protecting fishing areas or designating areas best avoided for wind turbine placement," she added.
According to the news release, the researchers will gather chart plotter data from individual fishermen, which will then be combined to map where exactly lobster fishing activity is prevalent off the Maine coast.
The university will also keep each fisherman’s data confidential.
"Fishermen have a proprietary interest in where they fish and, by extension, in their plotter data, so we want to be really careful in terms of how we anonymize and combine their data such that individual fishing data are not revealed," Beard-Tisdale noted in the release.
Eventually, researchers hope to use this data for the efforts like assessing fishery stocks.
There is also hope that the project will, according to UMaine, "build trust among fishermen, scientists and fishery managers in further developing fine-scale spatial data for use in decision making."
While the Mills administration is not involved in this research itself, Maine’s Department of Marine Resources is happy this work is occurring.
"The need for spatial data for the lobster industry is well-recognized by all stakeholders involved in wind, whale, and lobster management conversations," said Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher, in a statement provided to NECN/NBC 10 Boston.
"I’m glad the MLA is working with technical experts to develop a product that can start filling the data gaps using information that already exists while maintaining confidentiality," he added.