LATEST NEWS

Aquaculture in Maine
  • Climate change is bad news for Maine’s lobster fishery — Trump made it worse

    Maine lobster ready to be eaten, with pleasure. photo by Ramona du Houx

    Editorial by David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association 

    On the day President Donald Trump was sworn in, all references to climate change disappeared from the White House website. The Trump administration’s proposed budget would reduce funding for NOAA’s science and weather satellites and eliminate the Sea Grant program. Why does this matter? Sea Grant is to the fishing industry what the Cooperative Extension is to the farming industry.

    In 2015, the lobster fishery was the most valuable wild-caught fishery in the U.S. Yet we receive very little help from Maine or the U.S. government to support research, marketing or enforcement. Fortunately, we receive some research assistance from Maine Sea Grant. Maine Sea Grant has supported many lobster research projects over the years, including funding to monitor newly settled lobsters, a program to predict future landings and the impacts of warmer ocean temperatures on the fishery. This information is vitally important to lobstermen. 

    Cutting funding for NOAA is very short-sighted, considering the volatility of the weather and severity of recent storms. Fishermen depend on the agency, which oversees the National Weather Service, for accurate forecasts. This is a matter of safety for the thousands of people who work on the ocean for their livelihoods. 

    The NOAA satellite program also is important for our understanding of environmental trends. Satellite imagery tells us many important things, such as surface water temperatures over time, areas of cool or warm water and how freshwater runoff from major rivers affects the marine ecosystem. Satellites also have shown how fast the Gulf of Maine is warming, which is at an alarming rate.

    One might wonder why anyone would propose to cut funding for such valuable scientific programs. The answer might be that if the current administration doesn’t want to admit that climate change is real — and what better way to do that than to make the science that points out that it is real go away. If the federal government doesn’t pay for the satellites that show how fast the environment is changing, then the data are not available to scientists or to anyone else. 

    It is clear that the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, does not believe in climate change. He rejects the science behind climate change research, and he said earlier this month that “ there’s tremendous disagreement [on the science] about the degree of [human] impact” on the warming climate. We cannot allow the personal views of government leaders to set our country back by blocking funding for good programs and good science.

    There seems to be a disconnect between what is science and what is a belief. Science is based on facts and evidence gathered in an unbiased fashion. Beliefs are based on what you hear or want to believe. When I was growing up, science was king. It was based on facts, and it was not debatable. Now if you don’t like the science, you hire a so-called “expert” to argue about its validity and cast doubt on the facts. 

    Climate change has been the poster child for this practice. When nearly every country concurs that human actions have changed our climate and that those actions are having negative effects on the planet’s future, we are still debating whether that’s true, despite the fact that a strong consensus exists among the scientific community that human activities have made the planet warmer.

    Who are the doubters? For the most part, it is the fossil fuel industry that has spent millions of dollars to question the role of carbon emissions in climate change. Carbon dioxide is the byproduct of burning fossil fuels. So if the world starts turning to renewable energy, then the fossil fuel industry will no longer have a monopoly on the world’s energy needs.

    I’m not impressed with the total disregard for proven science and lack of respect for our environment shown by the new administration. As someone who depends on a clean environment to make a living, I’m worried we are trading the long-term health of our planet for short-term economic gains.

     

     

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Maine has received $3.3 billion from USDA during Obama years

    By Ramona du Houx 

    Since the beginning of the Obama Administration in Fiscal Year 2009, Maine Rural Development has invested an historic $3.3 billion in Maine’s rural communities through its programs, assisting 18,181 individuals and families to obtain homeownership or make repairs to their homes, constructing 42 Multi-Family Apartment buildings, investing in 250 essential community facilities, including water and waste facilities, assisting 3,505 Maine businesses, and impacting 10,211 jobs. 

    Just last year the USDA invested a total of $402.3 million in Maine communities in Fiscal Year 2016. 

    “Rural Development is a remarkable agency within the USDA that can build rural Maine communities from the ground up, investing in the community infrastructure that lays the foundation for strategic economic development. Rural Development invests in the homeowners, businesses, agricultural producers, and communities that help to make Maine a great place to work and call home,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    The funding was in the form of loans and grants through the agency’s Housing, Community, and Business & Cooperative Programs, and went directly to recipients in rural.

    1. Through the agency’s Housing Programs, a total of $316.8 million was invested in both homeownership and affordable rental housing in Maine.
    2. Through the agency’s Single-Family Housing Programs 1,849 Maine families became homeowners and 130 families were assisted with home repair and rehabilitation, including weatherization of their homes.
    3. Through the agency’s Multi-Family Housing Programs 8,003 families were assisted with quality rental housing throughout Maine’s rural communities.

    Maine communities benefited from a total investment of $55.09 million invested through the Community Programs which was provided to assist essential community facilities, including healthcare facilities, schools, and water and wastewater systems. A total of 36 community facilities were funded, and a total of 16,698 people were provided with improved water and wastewater infrastructure. 

    The Business & Cooperative Programs strengthened Maine’s economy through investments totaling $8.7 million, assisting 411 Maine businesses and creating and retaining a total of 926 jobs in the state. Maine’s agricultural producers and rural small businesses benefited from grants for value-added production and the installation of renewable and energy efficient systems, helping preserve the environment and reduce operating costs.

    USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. There are 52 employees working to deliver the agency’s Housing, Business, and Community Programs, which are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, and farmers, and improve the quality of life in rural Maine.

    Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office 

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • Maine lobstermen know the threat posed by climate change-we must act.

    Editorial by Richard Nelson, lobster fisherman for more than 30 years, member of the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission and the Maine Regional Ocean Planning Advisory Group. He lives in Friendship.

    I rose the other morning and began my preparations to head out on the water from Friendship Harbor to take up the my last load of lobster traps. My thoughts turned from from closing out my season to chuckling over my selection of boots for the day. My dear wife had made a special trip to the attic a month and a half ago to bring down my insulated winter boots, and I became aware of the fact that, with temperatures again climbing to the mid-40s, they would remain unworn this year.

    Many of the thoughts and decisions fishermen make are based on conditions in the environment in which we work. This is certainly not something new. Maine’s lobster industry, which is dependent on a healthy ocean and an abundant resource of lobsters, has a long established heritage of conservation.

    Our good management decisions of the past include throwing back both the large breed stock lobsters and small lobsters, putting escape vents in traps and returning egg bearing female lobsters into the water, marking them to ensure they are protected through future molts. We saw the need to set trap limits and become a limited access fishery, all the while remaining a small-boat, owner-operated fleet.

    Although these choices have helped create a fishery that is flourishing while others are not, we face environmental challenges that are beyond local control and more complex than our marine management system can address.

    The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans and is uniquely susceptible to ocean acidification. The root cause is rising carbon emissions from burning of fossil fuels. Ocean warming is believed to be a strong factor contributing to the lack of cod and shrimp, the influx of invasive species and other issues, while acidified waters are linked to the hindered ability of shellfish to produce their shells. Not only do these affect fishermen as businessmen by threatening our livelihood, but they also serve to kick-in that heritage of conservation within us.

    We realize, along with other Mainer’s, that we can no longer solve these climate issues alone but must reach out beyond our industry to friends, neighbors and decision-makers in government to support policies to maintain a healthy ocean and the resources on which we depend. But lately the help we seek on the state and federal levels has become a muddled landscape, especially since the election.

    One of the clear and consistent pathways left is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is a cooperative market-based initiative among nine northeastern states to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and spur investments in energy efficiency and clean energy production. While still allowing some self-direction by the power industry, it shifts the burden of carbon pollution costs from families and communities to the polluters and the fossil fuel companies themselves. Since its inception in 2009, we have seen a 35 percent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants and substantial investments in energy efficiency across Maine.

    This year, the program is under review, and proponents are seeking to reduce emissions by 5 percent per year from 2020 to 2030 and a doubling of our renewable power supply. The decisions made now will ensure we take full advantage of the initiative to achieve cost-effective, long-term climate goals. Action to achieve these goals would go a long way in sustaining Maine’s fisheries, both as part of what makes Maine special and the economic drivers they have become.

    From carbon policy to ocean debris, from remediating ocean acidification to increased severe weather events, all have become part of the realities and thoughts of a Maine fisherman. Let’s get our boots on and get to work.

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans available in Maine for drought recovery


    ATLANTA - The U.S. Small Business Administration announced on October 17, 2016 that federal Economic Injury Disaster Loans are available to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations located inMaine as a result of the drought that began on Sept. 27, 2016.

    The SBA’s disaster declaration includes the following counties: Androscoggin, Cumberland, Franklin, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Waldo and York in Maine.

    “When the Secretary of Agriculture issues a disaster declaration to help farmers recover from damages and losses to crops, the Small Business Administration issues a declaration to eligible entities affected by the same disaster,” said Frank Skaggs, director of SBA’s Field Operations Center East in Atlanta.

    Under this declaration, the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is available to eligible 

    farm-related and nonfarm-related entities that suffered financial losses as a direct result of this disaster.  With the exception of aquaculture enterprises, SBA cannot provide disaster loans to agricultural producers, farmers or ranchers. Nurseries are eligible to apply for economic injury disaster loans for losses caused by drought conditions.

    The loan amount can be up to $2 million with interest rates of 2.625 percent for private nonprofit organizations and 4 percent for small businesses, with terms up to 30 years.  The SBA determines eligibility based on the size of the applicant, type of activity and its financial resources.  Loan amounts and terms are set by the SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition.  These working capital loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that could have been paid had the disaster not occurred.  The loans are not intended to replace lost sales or profits.

    Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.

    Disaster loan information and application forms may also be obtained by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing) or by sending an email to disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.  Loan applications can be downloaded from www.sba.gov/disaster.  Completed applications should be mailed to: U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX  76155. 

    Completed loan applications must be returned to SBA no later than June 5, 2017.

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • Maine needs to address the threat of ocean acidification


    • Lydia BlumeBy Rep. Lydia Blume
    • Mainers have strong cultural, historic and economic ties to the ocean. The health of the ocean is critical to our way of life. Ocean acidification is a growing problem that could damage the health of the ocean and have drastic consequences for Maine’s coastal economy.
      Ocean acidification results when there is increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere goes up, a large proportion of it – up to 40 percent – gets dissolved in rainwater. From here it ends up in lakes, ponds, rivers and ultimately the ocean. 
      In addition to the increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, nutrients in the runoff from the land, like fertilizer, also increase the amount of carbon dioxide entering the ocean. The increased carbon dioxide reacts with the water to form carbonic acid, making it more acidic.
      The increased acidity of sea water impacts marine life. One of the most important effects is how the acid changes the way organisms use calcium. Calcium is critical to the entire food chain in the Gulf of Maine. The planktons, which make up the base of the food chain, decrease in number as the acidity of the ocean rises, and this in turn has an impact on finned fish.
      For shellfish, the impact is even more dramatic. The acid interferes with the way shellfish such as clams, mussels, scallops and even the iconic Maine lobster build their shells. It also can corrode shells. If we don’t find and adopt solutions, ocean acidification could cause major problems for most, if not all, of Maine’s commercial fisheries.
      Acidification is speeding up. Over the last 250 years the oceans have become approximately 30 percent more acidic. This rate has increased and, unless something changes, the level of acidity in the world’s oceans is expected to double in the next forty years. At that point, the acidity will have reached a point where some marine organisms will fail to spawn or develop.
      Ocean acidification is a very complex problem and there aren’t any simple answers. But now is the time to start asking what we know, what we can do about it, and what are the right next steps to find answers to the questions we can’t answer today. Because of the importance of the ocean to Maine, it is crucial that we understand more details about how increasing ocean acidification will affect us and what we can do about it.
      To learn more about the most up-to-date studies on the impacts of ocean acidification and more importantly, to learn more about recommendations for remediation and policy changes to limit acidification, I will be attending the full-day symposium sponsored by The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership coming up on June 29.
      The symposium will feature 15 presentations that will share new research, updates and progress reports from the past year on ocean and coastal acidification from around the state and beyond. It will tie in to earlier work done by the state on the problem, specifically the 2015 Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Study Commission’s Report, ordered by the 126th Legislature.
      Topics at the symposium will include modeling and monitoring techniques for determining actual and projected levels of acidification, impacts on commercially important species and strategies for reducing acidification.
      Ocean acidification has the potential to cripple our coastal economy, and I will be doing all I can to learn more about it and find ways we can act to limit or stop its impacts.
      Blume is in her first term in the Maine Legislature, where she serves on the Marine Resources Committee. She represents the coastal part of York.
  • Maine's Free Fishing Weekend is June 4 & 5

    The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is encouraging everyone to get out on Maine’s waters this weekend to take advantage of free fishing days.

    Free fishing weekend will take place on Saturday, June 4 and Sunday, June 5, when any person may fish for free without a license on Maine’s waterways, except those who have had their license suspended or revoked.

    All other rules and regulations, including bag and possession limits, apply.

  • U.S. Reps. Pingree, Wittman introduce bipartisan legislation to protect working waterfronts

    Working Waterfront in Harpswell, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME-01) and Rob Wittman (VA-01) are introducing bipartisan legislation today to protect the kind of waterfront access and infrastructure that many businesses—and thousands of jobs—depend on in Maine, Virginia, and in communities all over the country.

    “The importance of Maine’s coastline to our state’s economy can’t be understated.  It’s not only the reason millions of people visit our state every year, but many industries—like fishing, boat yards, and aquaculture—simply can’t operate without it,” said Pingree.  “Development pressures mean that we’ve lost an enormous amount of working waterfront in recent decades. To ensure the future of these critical industries, Maine and other coastal states need tools to protect waterfront access and infrastructure.  And that’s what our bill aims to do.”

    "Deteriorating waterfronts don’t just hurt our economy, they hurt our communities," said Wittman.  "These waterfronts support businesses, provide access to water, vitalize the economy, and improve quality of life for folks all over the country. Unfortunately, pressure from population growth and development threaten to destroy Virginia’s many water-dependent industries and displace families that have deep cultural ties to the area. This legislation will protect communities along our coasts by supporting maritime industry, protecting vital jobs, and preserving our natural resources."

    Pingree and Wittman's bill, the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act, would establish a Working Waterfront Grant Program that would provide matching, competitive grants to coastal states.  The grants would go toward preserving and expanding access to coastal waters for commercial fishing, recreational guiding, aquaculture, boat building, and other water-dependent businesses.

    Working waterfront in Portland, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The bill would also create a Working Waterfront Task Force at the Department of the Interior.  The task force would identify and prioritize critical working waterfront needs with respect to their cultural and economic importance, climate change and other environmental threats, and market conditions for water-dependent businesses.  It would also identify working waterfronts within communities.

    “Strong working waterfronts are critical to the future of Maine's fishing communities and marine economy. Maine has less than 20 miles of working waterfront along our 3,500-mile coastline,” said Nick Battista, Marine Programs Director at the Island Institute. “In Maine, we have worked hard to ensure people can continue to make a living off of the water but we cannot do it alone. It’s essential that our federal agencies better incorporate the needs of our nation’s working waterfronts into their decision-making processes.”

    According to the National Working Waterfront Network, working waterfronts support over 3.4 percent of the country’s total GDP, but there is no federal agency or program designed to help businesses, communities, and states protect these places. 

    “Once a working waterfront gets converted to another use, it’s very difficult to get it back. That means our coastlines can sustain fewer jobs both directly and indirectly,” Pingree said.  “I don’t think the loss of our working waterfronts has been a high enough federal priority.  The government needs a more coordinated response and to support states that want to protect the working waterfronts they still have and expand where possible.” 

  • USDA seeks applications for rural Maine community economic development projects

    Through the USDA’s Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) program $290,000 is now available for business development projects in Maine’s rural communities.

    “The RBDG program helps provide rural areas of the state with additional means for pursuing diverse economic development opportunities, which can lead to job creation and the strengthening of local economies,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

     Eligible applicants include public bodies, nonprofit corporations, and Native American tribes, who can utilize these funds for the benefit of private, small business enterprises in the communities that they serve.  Project types can range from real property development and equipment acquisition, to technical assistance, planning and training, to revolving loan fund capitalization.

     The grant award process is competitive, and priorities are established for: leveraging other resources, areas of economic distress, lower populations, higher unemployment, lower incomes, experience of the applicant, small business start-up or expansion, job creation, and supporting agency initiatives.  Projects that support strategic multi-jurisdictional development, the bioeconomy, local and regional food systems, renewable energy, and high-poverty areas are typically looked upon very favorably. 

    Grant awards are also generally under $100,000 each.

     All areas of the state are considered rural and eligible for this program, with the exceptions of Portland and surrounding parts of Falmouth, Westbrook, Scarborough, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

     Applications for the RBDG program are due by May 2, 2016. For questions or more information on how to apply, please contact Rural Development Business Programs Specialist Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov.

     

        

     

  • FocusMaine—aims to grow jobs and the economy using Maine’s identified strengths

    By Ramona du Houx

    More than 50 leading figures in Maine’s business, academic and political circles have become committed to ending the state’s economic stagnation. Their group, FocusMaine, aims to work with three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years across the state.

    After FocusMaine concluded it’s first project, a $100,000 survey of Maine’s economic landscape by global research firm McKinsey & Co., the consortium announced the group’s objectives to the press.

    “We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s let the data drive the process and be the decision maker,’” said Mike Dubyak, chairman of the board of directors for WEX and its former president and CEO.

    “FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz with Dubyak.

    The survey identified three key sectors where jobs would grow exponentially, raising incomes and the quality of life for all of Maine.

    Salmon in a DownEast hatchery. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In aquaculture U.S. fish consumption has risen by 23 percent since 1990, and we import almost 90 percent of select fish products, most of which are farm raised. Maine has many small aquaculture operations; some who don’t want to get any bigger, while others do but they’ll need to build connections with businesses, gain advice and even get to know potential investors. FocusMaine could become the bridge that would connect Maine’s entrepreneurs with the expertise and people they need to know.

    The same could be said for the agriculture sector that has had an influx of young organic famers, but lack connections that could help their operations flourish. The number of farmers aged 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same time there was an increase in 1,326 agricultural jobs—during the recession, while other jobs declined.

    There has been 10 percent annual growth in pharmaceutical contract research and manufacturing from 2005 to 2011 in Maine. As a strong biopharmaceutical cluster in Massachusetts continues to expand and their Boston based will need more affordable locations for manufacturing, and Maine fits the bill.

    Dubyak has been avidly working with Pierce Atwood partner Andrea Cianchette-Maker, co-chairwoman of the FocusMaine leadership team with Dubyak to develop Focus Maine, which has dozens of banks, policy-people, business and education leaders on board with the objective to grow Maine’s economy. FocusMaine’s mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs.

    “We have to develop the high priority strategies and which of those would require or benefit from government support,” said Cianchette-Maker.

    Hence there are teams focused on political, academic and research aspects of developing the 10-year plan. Its government advisory group includes former Gov. John Baldacci and former Gov. John McKernan.

    “I'm very proud to be part of this first class team of job creators. The focus isn't trying to be everything to everybody. We’ll take a few key sectors and become the world's best in those fields — agriculture, aquaculture and the life sciences manufacturing. I believe with more jobs in these sectors it will create a picture that ties all Maine together,” said Former Governor John E. Baldacci.

    The principle leaders of FocusMaine have built smaller organizations into larger ones. Hence they are turning their skills to smaller businesses with the potential to expand. The list of over 50 leading Maine figures on FocuMaine’s website speaks volumes about the seriousness of the group.

    “What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    Before Mills worked for the Obama administration she was put in charge of Baldacci’s efforts to boost Maine’s economy by working with lawmakers, stakeholders and researchers focusing on growing cluster areas identified as having potential. She successful helped kick start the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant program—Cluster Initiative Program (CIP) for collaborative projects that boost Maine’s high-potential technology-intensive clusters. FocusME received a CIP grant with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

    FocusMaine intends to concentrate on aquaculture first, funded in part through that $100,000 MTI grant. FocusMaine, has already raised about $700,000 in grants and contributions from at least 20 Maine companies and nonprofits.

    There are key reasons why FocusMaine has trade sector jobs in their sights—

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly double the average job in the state. In the trade sector, employees tend to stay longer in the company, then workers in lower paying jobs do. Good paying jobs will help keep young educated Maine workers in the state, too often they leave because of lack of employment opportunities.

    The ripple effect from a worker who spends his earnings in his community helps to support 1.6 additional local jobs. 

    “We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought the state well below the national average of 32 percent.

    “This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs. Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs,” MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak.  

    Some major well known FocusMaine leaders:

    • Michael Dubyak, former WEX Inc. president and CEO (co-chair)
    • Andrea Cianchette Maker, partner at Pierce Atwood (co-chair)
    • Eleanor Baker, Baker Newman Noyes co-founder and principal
    • William Caron Jr., president of MaineHealth
    • John Fitzsimmons, former Maine Community College System president
    • Karen Mills, former U.S. Small Business Administration administrator
    • Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co.
    • William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth
    • David Shaw, founder and former CEO of Idexx Laboratories Inc.

     

  • Maine lobster forecast says season will begin early

    Photos by Ramona du Houx

    The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) has released its first forecast predicting the timing of the seasonal uptick in Maine lobster landings expected for 2016.  The forecast currently predicts that the season will start 2–3 weeks early.  The forecast will be updated weekly through mid-April, when the predictive power of the tool reaches its peak, and will be available at www.gmri.org/lobster-forecast

    “July 4 is typically considered to be a normal start date for the lobster fishery in Maine,” said Andrew Pershing, GMRI’s Chief Scientific Officer. “If the timing is off by just a few weeks, it can have a major impact throughout the supply chain.” 

    In 2012, warm water temperatures caused Maine lobsters to move inshore and molt earlier than normal, kicking off the high-landings period in the fishery three weeks early. The supply chain was not ready for this influx, leading to lower prices.

    “Participants in the fishery and supply chain have learned from the 2012 experience and devised a number of strategies to cope with an early start,” explains Katherine Mills, GMRI associate research scientist.  “The goal of our forecast is to give people in the industry advanced warning so they can plan ahead for what is shaping up to be a very early season.”  

    GMRI built the forecast model with funding from NASA. It uses historical lobster landings and temperature data from the NERACOOS buoys in the Gulf of Maine to predict the start date for the season. The model currently shows at 55 percent chance that the season will start three weeks early, a 41 percent chance that it will start two weeks early, and a 4 percent chance that it will start one week early.

    The forecast of an early start to the lobster season is due to warm ocean temperatures.  Water temperatures along the coast of Maine are currently running 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2–3 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal.  While coastal temperatures can fluctuate considerably this time of year, long-range forecast information provided by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center indicates that warm water temperatures are likely to persist into the spring and summer, partly due to the influence of El Niño.  

    GMRI will continue to update the forecast each week through mid-April, as new temperature information comes in.  

  • Global warming might be causing marine diseases to spread

    One well-documented example is the emergence of epizootic shell disease in American lobsters.

    Global climate change is altering the world’s oceans in many ways. Some impacts have received wide coverage, such as shrinking Arctic sea ice, rising sea levels and ocean warming. However, as the oceans warm, marine scientists are observing other forms of damage.

    My research focuses on diseases in marine ecosystems. Humans, animals and plants are all susceptible to diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Marine diseases, however, are an emerging field.

    Infectious agents have the potential to alter ocean life in many ways. Some threaten our food security by attacking important commercial species, such assalmon. Others, such as bacteria in oysters, may directly harm human health. Still others damage valuable marine ecosystems – most notably coral reefs.

    To anticipate these potential problems, we need a better understanding of marine diseases and how climate change affects their emergence and spread.

    Warming waters promote marine diseases

    Recent studies show that for some marine species diseases are spreading and increasingClimate change may also promote the spread of infectious agents in oceans. Notably, warming water temperatures can expand these agents’ ranges and introduce diseases to areas where they were previously unknown.

    Many diseases of marine species are secondary opportunist infections that take advantage when a host organism is stressed by other conditions, such as changes in pH, salinity or temperature. A bacterium that is dormant (and therefore noninfective) at a certain temperature may thrive at a slightly higher temperature.

    One well-documented example is the emergence of epizootic shell disease (ESD) in American lobsters. This disease, thought to be caused by bacteria, is characterized by lesions that penetrate inward from a lobster’s shell surface towards the inner flesh, making infected lobsters unmarketable. ESD can also kill lobsters by making it difficult for them to shed their shells in order to grow.

    In the 1990s, following almost a decade of above-normal summer temperatures, ESD affected so many lobsters that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission declared that the Southern New England fishery (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island) was in collapse and recommended closing it.

    Fishery models that incorporated shell disease offered convincing evidence that ESD was a major factor in the decline of the stock. This episode underscores the importance of considering marine diseases in stock assessments and fishery management.

    Now there are concerns that ESD will continue to spread north to Maine’s $465.9 million lobster fishery. In 2015 the Gulf of Maine showed record high abundances of lobster, making it one of the most productive fisheries in the world.

    However, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have increased faster than 99 percent of the global ocean over the past decade, warming three times faster than the global average. Since temperature is a primary factor in the spread of this disease, observers fear that it could have devastating effects on Maine’s lobster fishery.

    There is also a risk that ESD could spread from American lobsters to other fisheries. Seafood wholesalers have imported live American lobsters into Europe for decades, which can result in their escape into the wild. Last summer the United Kingdom’s Marine Management Organization warned U.K. fishermen that because the European lobster shares similar habitats, food sources and diseases with the American lobster, ESD could spread between the species.

    As a doctoral student at Swansea University, U.K., I collaborated with the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts to investigate this possibility. While we found that European lobsters were more likely to develop shell disease when reared in the presence of American lobsters, on the positive side, they don’t seem to get the same shell disease as American lobsters.

    This means that European lobsters may be better equipped to deal with outbreaks of ESD. But with sea surface temperatures in U.K. coastal waters rising since the 1980s by around 0.2-0.9 degrees Celsius per decade, it is important to monitor U.K. waters for this disease.

    Tropical disease

    Now I am now studying the Panuliris argus_1 virus (PaV1) in the Caribbean spiny lobster, where the picture is more dire. Discovered around 2000, this virus is present from the Florida Keys to Venezuela. It can infect up to 60 percent of lobsters in some areas. Laboratory studies indicate that lobsters held in high-temperature seawater and exposed to PaV1 develop active and more intense infections much more quickly than those held at lower temperatures.

    Studies from 1982 to 2012 show that waters in the Caribbean are warming, with the most significant temperature increase occurring over the past 15 years – approximately the period when PaV1 appeared. If PaV1 continues to spread, it could have significant effects on the health of Caribbean reefs as a whole, as well as on the valuable Caribbean lobster fishery.

    Monitoring more diseases

    Many other species are also showing increasing effects from marine diseases. The frequency of coral diseases has increased significantly over the last 10 years, causing widespread mortality among reef-building coral, which are home to more than 25 percent of all marine fish species.

    In the Pacific, more than 20 species of sea stars were devastated by a wasting disease that ranged from Mexico all the way up to Alaska in 2013 and 2014. Research suggests that 90 percent of some populations were wiped out, and some adult populations have been reduced to a quarter of pre-outbreak numbers.

    Scientists believe the cause is a virus which becomes more active in warmer conditions. In both field surveys and laboratory experiments, starfish were found to react faster to the disease in warmer water than in cooler temperatures.

    As the oceans continue to warm, it is crucial to understand how our actions are affecting marine life. Some species will not be able to withstand the increase in temperature. The most recent U.S. National Climate Change Assessment projects that outbreaks of marine diseases are likely to increase in frequency and severity as waters warm under climate change. Researchers are working around the world to determine whether and how species will survive disease events in our increasingly altered oceans.

    Charlotte Eve Davies is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  • Reward of $11,000 for information about a Maine lobster heist

    by Ramona du Houx

    A reward has been posted- $11,000 -to help apprehend a thief or thieves who stole a lobsterman's catch.

    “This is an extremely serious violation involving multiple victims, and we would appreciate any help from the public,” said Maine Marine Patrol Col. Jon Cornish. “The money for this reward comes both from the Operation Game Thief program and from lobstermen committed to bringing this person or people to justice. I’m grateful for the support of [Operation Game Thief] and these lobstermen and their dedication to supporting the work of the Maine Marine Patrol.”

    Maine Operation Game Thief, a private, nonprofit organization that works with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Marine Patrol, Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, Warden Service and Wildlife Crime Stoppers, has offered the reward “for information that helps authorities bring the person or people responsible … to justice.”

    An investigation by the Maine Marine Patrol determined that about 200 lobster traps were hauled by someone other than the license lobster trap holders. The thief or theives then took the  lobsters were  and the traps were lowered to the ocean bottom, according to a press release from Maine Department of Marine Resources spokesman Jeff Nichols. Some of the traps were not retrievable.

    The traps were tampered with near Jeffrey’s Ledge in the western Gulf of Maine, about 30 miles off the coast of New Hampshire.

    Anyone with information about the case should call Maine Marine Patrol Sgt. Rob Beal at 479-3931 or the Operation Game Thief hotline at 800-253-7887.

  • Maine can improve our lobster industry




    • Editorial by Rep. Lydia Blume
      When people across the world think of Maine, one of the first things that come to mind is lobster. Lobster and its fishery are central to the culture and the psyche of our state - especially our coastal communities. It is one of the major reasons people visit Maine and the lobster industry contributes greatly to our overall economy.
      Our Maine lobster commercial fishery is special and the envy of the world. Lobstermen developed their own system of conservation measures to ensure the sustainability of the fishery long before the concept was common practice. It is well worth protecting and improving when needed.
      Why is this fishery so successful? There are three basic reasons.
      First, we have an owner-operator based licensing system. It promotes independence, variety in the fleet, responsibility and rewards hard work.
      Second, we have an integrated apprenticeship program to become an owner-operator. This slows entry into the fishery and passes on Maine’s strong traditions, rules, and conservation measures, such as strict adherence to size limits and notching of egg-bearing females. This promotes the continued good stewardship of the resource and individual commitment to its continued success.
      Finally, we have a Zone Council system. The coast is divided into seven geographic zones, each with its own lobster management council. This allows for localized authority over certain aspects of the fishery and for the cultural, economic and resource differences that exist across Maine’s coastal communities.
      All of these things combine to ensure that fishermen are proud and profitable in their chosen livelihoods and that the fishery will continue to be healthy into the future.
      There is a major problem facing the fishery, however. The limited entry system has become bogged down, and people who have finished the apprenticeship program can end up waiting for years to get a license. Some people have been waiting for up to 12 years before they move off the list and become licensed owner-operators. This results in people getting frustrated and leaving the fishery, and it discourages young people from entering the industry in the first place. Something has to give if we are to keep our lobster fishery healthy.
      I serve on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, and we have a bill before us, LD 1503, to make entry into the fishery a shorter, smoother and more predictable process. As written, the bill calls for creating a new “limited” license that would allow the holder to have up to 300 traps, as opposed to the 800 traps allowed under the existing license.
      As we have been looking into the problems with lobster licensing, however, we have been hearing about other possibilities for improving the system for entering the fishery.
      The task before our committee is complicated and it will be hard, if not impossible, to please everyone. We all must remember that the lobster industry is bigger than any individual or part of the state. We, legislators, lobster fishermen and regulators, must all do our part in helping to preserve this core component of our Maine brand.
      I am confident that if we all work together, we will come up with a solution that will allow people into the fishery in a timely manner and still protect the quality and sustainability of this iconic Maine resource.
  • Ocean expedition, with Maine scientist, recovers mantle rocks with signs of life

    The expedition set off from Southampton, UK, on October 26, 2015, aboard the Royal Research Vessel James Cook

    By Ramona du Houx

    An international team of scientists – recently returned from a 47-day research expedition to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – have collected an unprecedented sequence of rock samples from the shallow mantle of the ocean crust that bear signs of life, unique carbon cycling, and ocean crust movement. 

    The expedition was led by Co-Chief Scientists Dr. Gretchen Früh-Green of Switzerland, and Dr. Beth Orcutt of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, in Maine. The team collected these unique rock samples using seabed rock drills from Germany and the UK – the first time ever- that such technology has been utilized. These rock drills have new technologies to enable scientists to detect signs of life in the rock samples.

    "During drilling, we found evidence for hydrogen and methane in our samples, which microbes can 'eat' to grow and form new cells," explained Beth Orcutt, Co-Chief Scientist from Bigelow Laboratory, (photo). "Similar rocks and gases are found on other planets, so by studying how life exists in such harsh conditions deep below the seafloor, we inform the search for life elsewhere in the Universe."

    The expedition scientists want to determine how mantle rocks are brought to the seafloor and react with seawater – such reactions may fuel life in the absence of sunlight, which may be how life developed early in Earth’s history, or on other planets.

    The team also wanted to learn more about what happens to carbon during the reactions between the rocks and the seawater – processes that could impact on climate by sequestering carbon.

    "The rocks collected on the expedition provide unique records of deep processes that formed the Atlantis Massif. We will also gain valuable insight into how these rocks react with circulating seawater at the seafloor during a process we call serpentinization and its consequences for chemical cycles and life," stated expedition Co-Chief Scientist Gretchen Früh-Green.

    The scientists were part of the International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 357, conducted by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling, as part of the IODP. 

    The expedition set off from Southampton, UK, on October 26, 2015, aboard the Royal Research Vessel James Cook  and returned on December 11, 2015. They brought were equipped with the Rock Drill 2 from the British Geological Survey and the MeBo rock drill from MARUM in Bremen, Germany, for around-the-clock operations to collect rock cores from the Atlantis Massif, a 4,000-m tall underwater mountain along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. 

    During the past two weeks, the science party has been studying the rock samples in detail at the IODP Bremen Core Repository in Bremen, Germany. 

    The science party consisted of 31 scientists (16 female/15 male) from 13 different countries (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, UK, USA), ranging from students to tenured professors. 

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • DOE grant for Algae Foundation work at USM

    On October 2, 2015, the US Department of Energy  (DOE) awarded a multi-year, $1.5 million grant to the Algae Foundation, to develop a college degree in algal cultivation technologies as well as an aquaculture extension training program. The work will be conducted at the University of Southern Maine.

    The Algae Foundation has formed the Algae Technology Educational Consortium (ATEC), a partnership between academic institutions, national research laboratories, and industry leaders. The Consortium will develop novel educational programs to strengthen industry workforce capabilities.

    The Algae Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the algae industry. Its leader, Dr. Ike Levine, teaches at the University of Southern Maine in Lewiston.

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • Maine must address acidification to save our fisheries, our way of life

    Portland, Maine docks, photo by Ramona du Houx

     Editorial by Maine State Senator Chris Johnson, from Somerville.

    Last year, Maine became the first state on the East Coast to tackle the growing threat to our way of life posed by an increasingly acidic ocean. Today, we stand at a crossroads.

    Ocean acidification is a very real and serious threat to the Gulf of Maine. The ocean today is more than 30 percent more acidic than it was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The causes of this increasing acidity are myriad, but most of them are linked in one way or another to global climate change.

    Lobster fishing is at risk with ocean temperatures on the rise and acidification. Photo of Belfast lobster fisherman by Ramona du Houx

    According to a story in this week’s Portland Press Herald, scientists estimate that by 2100, the oceans will be more acidic than they’ve been in the past 300 million years. The Gulf of Maine is particularly vulnerable to acidification, which threatens many of our important fisheries. Acidity harms shellfishes ability to grow shell during their juvenile stage, drastically decreasing their likelihood of survival.

    Several communities in my district rely in part on these fisheries. Seafood eaters in our state will likely have ordered  “Pemaquid Oysters” or clams or other shellfish from our region at restaurants. These marine creatures provide jobs and spur economic activity in our region.

    But this isn’t just a local concern. Maine’s fisheries in 2014 had a value of more than $585 million, nearly all of which came from shellfish such as lobster, clams, scallops and oysters. Simply put, threats to these sea creatures are threats to our state’s economy.

    Last year, I co-chaired a commission to study the effects of ocean acidification on Maine’s coast and fisheries. The group included policymakers, fishermen, aquaculturists and scientists.

    The commission’s work culminated last December in a report recommending several steps Maine could take to address the threat of acidification in our state. Perhaps the most important of these steps was also the simplest: The state must take acidification seriously and embark on a sustained, coordinated effort to mitigate its effects on the Gulf of Maine.

    A bill by Rep. Mick Devin currently awaits the Legislature when it returns in January. That bill would establish a long-term Ocean Acidification Council to address this growing threat.

    The coming session is reserved for emergency legislation. There can be no question that the threat posed by acidification to our fisheries, our economy and our way of life is an emergency the state must address.

    Some may raise concerns about the minimal costs associated with an ongoing effort to protect our fisheries. But the cost of doing nothing is far greater to our friends and neighbors who turn to the ocean to earn a living and support their families.

    We simply cannot wait for an ecological collapse of one of our important fisheries before we act.

    Climate change is real. Ocean acidification is real. They threaten to devastate our marine resource economy — and many coastal communities’ way of life. I urge you to contact your lawmakers, and ask them to support the critical work ahead. There’s too much at stake to stop working now.

     

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Passy Pete, the lobster, predicted six more weeks of summer in Belfast, Maine

    Labor Day has been known to mark the end of the summer and the start of the fall season. But this Labor Day, Belfast, Maine attempted to change that tradition with Passy Pete—the lobster bell-weather predictor of summer.  The lobster decided there would be six more weeks of summer. The Belfast Barons, of city officials, caught Pete in the Penobscot Bay, placed two scrolls in front of him, and he chose which one would be read to the crowd.

    The community made their way down to the waterfront, waved signs and cheered Pete on. Of course the scroll that Pete's claws picked was the one everyone hoped for.

    "For Pete knows the ways of happy tourists, that plowmen will think it's a bummer, but there will be six more weeks of summer," read co-founder Dave Crabiel. "We now have six more weeks of summer in Belfast. That's fantastic."

    How did a lobster become a predictor of the weather instead of dinner?

     "Local business owners lament the fact that summer is just about over, so we were thinking, 'Boy, it would be nice if we had an anti-groundhog, somebody who predicts six more weeks of summer,” said Crabiel.

    Hence a new tradition has been born in Belfast, Maine.

  • Predicting ocean acidification over the next 100 years

    Lobsters would be effected by ocean acidification if we don't act now. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Ever wonder what the ocean might be like if it continues to become more acidic over the next 100 years?  That’s the question that scientist Steve Archer is exploring at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Archer is has conducted experiments in the Arctic and the tropics to determine effects of increasing ocean acidification on ocean life and conditions.  This summer, he will be conducting similar experiments at Bigelow Laboratory in huge containers, called mesocosms, where he can control environmental conditions, including the pH of the water.

    The public is invited to come hear what Archer is finding, ask him questions, and engage in a lively discussion on Tuesday evening, from 6-7 pm at Boothbay Opera House, 86 Townsend Avenue in Boothbay Harbor. Archer’s presentation is the second in Bigelow Laboratory’s weekly summer “Café Scientifique” series. This year the focus is on ”Extreme Environments/Extreme Science.”

    Café Scientifique is an international movement designed to encourage discussion about topical science issues between scientists and the public. There are more than 150 science cafés organized over 42 countries. All Café Scientifique events are open to the public free of charge, and members of the press are encouraged to attend. For more information, contact dcrist@bigelow.org or call (207) 315-2567, ext.103.

  • Boyan Slat, 19, has begun to clean up the worlds oceans using ocean currents

    Never stop dreaming and doing. There are solutions to solve man made problems and young entrapenures are engaged in that process. They are giving us all a future.

    Boyan Slat saw the devestation caused by garbage patches around the world and took on the challenge of finding a solution. He gave a riveting Ted Talk unveiling his plan to clean the pollution using passive flotation devices and the ocean's own currents.  In 2014, at the age of 19, his plan became feasible, and now it's going into effect off the coast of Japan.

    Because of ocean currents, most plastic that ends up in the oceans finds its way into garbage patches around the globe. They poison marine life and end up in the food supply of the planet. Toxic chemicals like PCBs and DDTs are absorbed by the plastic and cause diseases like cancer, malformation and impaired reproductive ability. Some marine life also get tangled up in plastic waste and drown.

     It's estimated that 1/3rd of the world's oceanic plastic pollution is within the great Pacific Garbage Patch (number 01 on the map above).

    The currents pull the sea life under the floatation devices but the lighter-than-water plastics float into the barriers.  What would have taken humanity 70,000 years to clean with boats and nets can be cleaned, instead, in decades.

    It's estimated that a single, 100km cleanup array will clean 42 percent of the ocean's plastic in 10 years.  The first array will be deployed in 2016 and technology is underway to recycle the plastic into biofuel.

     For more information please visit https://fund.theoceancleanup.com

  • Union solidarity at BIW in Maine

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally to promote solidarity during the year before the union’s contract expires.

    “The union is behind its leadership, and the company is going to have to negotiate with us and not dictate to us," said Jay Wadleigh, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6. “They need to abide by the contract, stop misleading the media and just work with us so we can get the costs of these ships down. We’re the best shipbuilders in the world. We want to work. We just want to be treated with dignity and respect and be negotiated with and not dictated to.”

    BIW is known as one of the best shipbuilders in America. It's slogan is "Bath Built is Best Built."

    This is the second big march at the shipyard this year. On March 24 nearly 1,000 members of the International Association of Machinists Union Local marched to rallying support and protesting a variety of proposed BIW changes.

    Caps on defense spending have resulted in fewer Naval contracts thus spurring the BIW changes including outsourcing work and cross-training employees.

    BIW says the measures will increase the shipyard’s efficiency and keep the costs of building destroyers competitive. The shipyard insists it needs to be competitive to win two bidding contracts. But the union says there are better ways to cut costs. The stalemate has resulted in a third-party arbitration and a federal lawsuit charging BIW with violating its contract with workers.


    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

  • Additional protection for Maine's shellfish aquaculture

    Fishing boats in Portland, Maine. Photo by Ramona du houx

    The Maine Senate enacted a proposed law that protects Maine’s shellfish acquaculture from disruption and predation on May 20th.

    “There’s a lot on the line for Maine’s coastal economy,” said Senator Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, the sponsor of the measure. “This is a bill that will support Maine clammers and protect Maine’s clamming industry from green crab predation.”

    The bill, LD 255, “An Act To Preserve the Integrity of Maine’s Shellfish Industry by Increasing the Penalty for Interfering with Permitted Harvest,” expands prohibited action to include the disturbance of shellfish–not only the taking of shellfish. Additionally, it increases the fine against someone who interferes with an acquaculture permitholder from a minimum – maximum of $100-$500 to $500-$2,000.

    Brunswick mud flats employ over 50 commercial license holders and provide hundreds of recreational permits, creating nearly $2 million dollars in local revenue annually.

    According to Sen. Gerzofsky’s testimony during the public hearing many municipalities invest significant amounts of time and money into creating sustainable shellfish harvesting management plans every year. These harvesting management plans allow juvenile shellfish to sit undisturbed until they reach a harvestable size or are relayed to another growing area for grow out. This practice also helps protect against green crabs predation that is causing immediate damage to Maine’s clams and industry.

    Senator Gerzofsky added, “This is an easy fix to help protect the livelihoods of our hardworking clammers.”

    Over the past few years, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of worm harvesting on Maine’s mudflats. Excessive marine worm harvesting has caused a decrease in Maine’s juvenile shellfish stock.

    “Both the soft shell clam and marine worm industries are vital to Maine’s coastal economy and so their cooperation is needed to develop predator control strategies that will mitigate the effects of green crabs,” said Senator Gerzofsky. “Both industries have an economic interest in properly managing the intertidal zone in a way that does not disadvantage either user group.”

    The bill will now go to the governor for his consideration before it can become law. 

  • UMaine team with Maine Fresh Sea Farms study aquacultured seaweed products

    More and more farmers are turning to the sea to cultivate- seaweed in Maine.

    Photo of fishing boats in Portalnd, Maine by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    University of Maine associate professor Denise Skonberg and graduate student Dhriti Nayyar are working with a Bristol company to study the shelf life and nutritional values of aquacultured sea vegetable products.

    Maine Fresh Sea Farms, a startup based on the Damariscotta River, is one of five Maine companies to share $471,571 in Value Added Producer Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program. The federal grants were awarded in August 2014 to preserve rural jobs at companies that process and add value to agricultural products.

    Maine Fresh Sea Farms received $71,673 to help “study the feasibility of delivering fresh aquacultured sea vegetable products to the marketplace using agricultural produce and seafood distribution systems,” in addition to helping it create a business plan, the USDA said. The funds also will help the company retain 21 jobs and create 10 more over the next decade.

    To study the products, the company turned to Skonberg, a professor of food science and human nutrition in the School of Food and Agriculture. Skonberg and Nayyar are collecting baseline data on the length of time several species of sea vegetables can be considered fresh while under refrigeration. They also are conducting basic nutritional analyses to help meet nutritional labeling requirements.

    Skonberg anticipates the study will provide key information about the nutritional benefits and shelf-life stability of four varieties of sea vegetables that are farm raised in Maine.

    “This information will help the newly developing seaweed industry in Maine with marketing their products, and will help them make decisions about how best to harvest, handle, process, store and distribute products to their customers,” Skonberg says. “The results will promote the production of locally sourced, high-quality and nutritious seaweed products from Maine and help in job creation along the coast.”

    Throughout the yearlong project, the researchers will look at four species of freshly harvested aquacultured seaweeds — sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima), dulse (Palmaria palmata), Gracilaria, and winged kelp (Alaria) — grown on the company’s Clark Cove farm.

    Basic nutritional analyses will be conducted on the raw sea vegetables on a wet weight basis — not dried — for use on nutrition labels. Samples of each species will be collected throughout the year during the time period that each would normally be available for harvest and sale. Using standard harvesting and handling procedures, Maine Fresh Sea Farms will transport the vegetables to UMaine where they will be refrigerated and then stored for up to 12 days, or until they are unfit for human consumption. Whole fronds along with a shredded seaweed salad version of three species — sugar kelp, winged kelp and dulse — will be periodically tested for quality.

    Although some nutrient data already exist for dried sugar kelp and dulse, it has been shown that growing conditions, region, strain and time of harvest can affect the nutrient profile of sea vegetables, according to Skonberg. The sea vegetables will be assessed for basic nutrient composition — water, fat, protein, total minerals and carbohydrates.

    The shelf-life studies will be conducted at two holding temperatures, one close to freezing at 35 F and another at 45 F, which is on the high end of normal holding temperatures.

    The researchers will look at how each species performs at different temperatures and forms. Soluble protein content, which has been shown to be a good indicator of quality loss in fresh seaweed, will be monitored through protein analyses, Skonberg says.

    An in-house sensory evaluation will be conducted by an experienced panel to assess quality deterioration of the whole fronds and seaweed salad. Panel members will rate aroma, texture, color and overall quality of the samples.

    Nayyar has already conducted shelf-life studies on sugar kelp and dulse, and will be starting another shelf-life study on winged kelp this spring. The researchers have found that sensory evaluation, as well as instrumental color and texture were better indicators for assessing shelf life than microbial analyses.

    The shelf life studies and basic nutritional analysis should be completed later this year in December.

    Maine Fresh Sea Farms also has worked with Maine Sea Grant, the Brawley Laboratory at UMaine, and the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research.  One result of the collaborations is Sea Belt, a Scotch Ale brewed by Marshall Wharf Brewing in Belfast using dried sugar kelp grown at the Damariscotta River sea farm.

    In addition to funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program, Maine Fresh Sea Farms won a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration and has applied for a Phase II. The Maine Technology Institute has provided grant writing assistance and a Business Accelerator Grant.

  • Maine Bumble Bee Atlas (MBBA) project will train you May 16th

     In order to document the diversity, distribution and abundance of bumble bees in Maine, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MDIFW) has initiated the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas (MBBA) project. Designed as a multi-year statewide survey, the project is being coordinated by MDIFW in partnership with the University of Maine at Orono and Farmington. Closely modeled after MDIFW’s highly successful Maine Butterfly Survey (2007–2015) and Maine Damselfly and Dragonfly Survey (1999-2005), the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas will marshal the efforts of volunteer citizen scientists from across Maine to greatly increase our knowledge on the status of the state’s bumble bees.

    Maine Bumble Bee Atlas Keeping Track of Maine's Native Pollinators 2015 MBBA Volunteer Training Workshop -

    Saturday May 16 (9am - 3pm) 

    University of Maine at Orono

    Registration Required Contact Beth Swartz - MBBA Coordinator beth.swartz@maine.gov

     Bumble bees, with their bold yellow and black stripes, large furry bodies and relatively docile dispositions, are a familiar backyard insect to most people. The important role they play in our environment, however, often goes unrecognized. Bumble bees are an essential component of pollination for flowering plants throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

    They pollinate many of our spring and summer wildflowers, as well as a wide variety of other plants, including most garden flowers, fruits and vegetables. This ecosystem service is key to maintaining not only cultivated crops for human use, but also native plant communities which provide habitat for Maine’s diverse wildlife species. Unfortunately, some North American bumble bee species have experienced significant population declines during the last few decades.

    Several species, including four native to Maine, were once very common throughout their ranges but are now rarely observed. Various factors are believed to be contributing to these declines, including habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides, and diseases and parasites introduced through widespread use of commercially raised bumble bees. These same declines have likely also occurred in Maine, but because we have so little information about our bumble bee fauna it is difficult to assess the status of the 17 species known to live here.

    To read an indepth article about the situation and what's being done in Maine click HERE.

  • Added protections for Maine's Shellfish Aquaculture gets public hearing in Maine


    Lobster by Ramona du houx

    A measure to protect Maine’s shellfish acquaculture from disruption and predation received broad support from clammers and coastal municipal officials at today’s public hearing in the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.

    “There’s a lot on the line for Maine coastal economy,” said Senator Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick. “This is a bill that continues our efforts from last session to support and protect Maine’s clamming industry.”

    The bill, LD 255, “An Act To Preserve the Integrity of Maine's Shellfish Industry by Increasing the Penalty for Interfering with Permitted Harvest,” expands prohibited action to include the disturbance of shellfish--not only the taking of shellfish. Additionally, it increases the fine against someone who interferes with an acquaculture permitholder from a minimum - maximum of $100-$500 to $500-$2,000.

    Brunswick mud flats employ over 50 commercial license holders and provide hundreds of recreational permits, creating nearly $2 million dollars in local revenue annually.

    According to Sen. Gerzofsky’s testimony, many municipalities invest significant amounts of time and money into creating sustainable shellfish harvesting management plans every year. These harvesting management plans allow juvenile shellfish to sit undisturbed until they reach a harvestable size or are relayed to another growing area for grow out. This practice also helps protect against green crabs predation that is causing immediate damage to Maine’s clams and industry.

    Senator Gerzofsky added, “This is an easy fix to help protect the livelihoods of our hardworking clammers.”

    Over the past few years, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of worm harvesting on Maine’s mudflats. Excessive marine worm harvesting has caused a decrease in Maine’s juvenile shellfish stock.

    “Both the soft shell clam and marine worm industries are vital to Maine's coastal economy and so their cooperation is needed to develop predator control strategies that will mitigate the effects of green crabs,” said Senator Gerzofsky. “Both industries have an economic interest in properly managing the intertidal zone in a way that does not disadvantage either user group.”

    The committee will be holding a work session on LD 255, “An Act To Preserve the Integrity of Maine's Shellfish Industry by Increasing the Penalty for Interfering with Permitted Harvest,” in the coming weeks.

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