It feels like there is so much background to tell you on this story so just bear with me for a little bit as I fill you in.
The Eastern Maine Skippers Program (EMSP) is an amazing effort that provides future commercial fishermen, and other students interested in marine careers, the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the 21st century landscape. This project is a collaboration among many schools in Maine’s Zone C fishing area and is currently spearheaded by the Penobscot East Resource Center (PERC). Incredible amounts of curriculum and coordination support also come from the Rural Aspirations Project in addition to many other community partners including local fishermen, scientists, fisheries organizations and regulators.
Every year the Skippers have a driving question that guides their studies and this year it is a multi-part question: “Who and/or what eats/buys lobsters?” and “What impact can I/we have?” In previous years, Hurricane Island has hosted the EMSP kickoff and that was the plan this year… until…. way back at the beginning of October, a hurricane threatened to head up the East coast and slam into New England much as it had just barreled through the Bahamas. The end result saw the hurricane heading off the coast and across the Atlantic before its effects could truly be felt in the Gulf of Maine. Unfortunately, the specter of a major hurricane was enough to seriously alter program plans on Hurricane Island (funny how that works!). We were not surprised but still sad when we finally got the call from PERC that the oncoming weather was too unpredictable and potentially dangerous to push ahead with the kickoff on Hurricane Island. We all lay on the floor of the mess hall for a while before we got our feet back under us and then proceeded to close up the Island for the fall.
Flash forward to November and our spirits were raised again when we got the opportunity to participate in the EMSP kickoff that was being held on the (much less unpredictable) mainland at the Schoodic Institute. Schoodic was a wonderful host location and the weather was beautiful for students to be outside and moving between buildings for activities. After a brief orientation the day started out with high energy as the students were put into mixed school groups to compete in the world renowned Stern Man/Woman Olympics. Several students were veterans of the program and were eyed nervously by their new cohort as true Olympic threats but everyone gave their all across all events and it was a spirited way to spend the morning for sure.
Olympics was perhaps a misnomer because the competition ran more like a biathlon… I mean triathlon… I mean…. What do you call a competition where people have to compete in 8 events?! An octathlon? Students cycled through a rope coiling/tying/stacking event, lobster trap pyramid and bait bag filling relays, and challenges in lobster trap part naming/function, mapping/navigation, boat hull identification, marine organism identification, and marketing/accounting. EXHAUSTING!
The rest of the day couldn’t really be called restful by any means as the students moved through a variety of workshops they signed up for and ended the day with a wonderful Skype session with Trevor Corson, who is the author of The Secret Life of Lobsters. I got to run one of the workshops that was a lobster dissection. It is amazing to actually dissect a lobster and realize that just because you cook and eat them all the time or catch them on your boat that there is still soooo much more that you don’t know about them! For instance, did you know that lobsters pee at each other when they fight? Its true! Next time you eat a lobster, look for the urine ducts that face forward under each antenna. Or did you know that lobsters have teeth in their gut? You don’t want to really eat much up in the head region of the lobster but if you really get in there and follow the gut back from the mouth and into the body you will find the grinding teeth that help to break down the lobster’s meal (you might even find remnants of that last meal!). Students had a great time learning new things about lobsters and those were frequently the items students referenced at the end of the day as ‘cool things they learned’ during the kickoff.
All told it was a busy but wonderful day and it was great to keep our involvement with the Skippers going. I'm already excited to see how they address their questions this year and looking forward to continuing to work with EMSP, PERC, and Rural Aspirations even more in the future!