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Joyful duck, whales, and lobsters

By Polly Saltonstall

Photo by Alison Langley Active summer racing season

The classic yacht racing scene along Maine’s coast saw quite a bit of activity this summer. Competition got off to a windy start at the Shipyard Cup Classic Challenge in Boothbay Harbor as more than 50 modern and vintage racers competed in two days of racing. The NY40 Marilee was the overall winner, as well as the winner in her vintage classics division. Next up came two-days of racing in the Camden Classics Cup, where the overall winner was local classic racer Palawan. After that the Castine Classic, a 20-mile race from Castine to Camden, saw Santana, a 55' Sparkman & Stephens design built in 1935 for Humphrey Bogart, and now owned and skippered by Wendy Schmidt, take Classic A honors and the Ames Cup as overall winner. Next up was the Camden to Brooklin Feeder Race, followed by the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta, where the Joel White Award for the best corrected time for a plank-on-frame boat was won by Marilee and her skipper Ken Colburn.

Seaweed is the new Gas-X… for cows

The Bigelow Laboratory has received $5 million for further research into whether seaweed-based food can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cows. Yup it’s true; cows burp out significant amounts of methane as part of their natural digestive process. However, Bigelow’s research has shown that adding algae additives to their diet can greatly reduce these emissions. Given the size and scope of the dairy and beef industries, this could have a major global impact. The lab began work on this issue in 2019 with a grant from the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund. The new grant from the organization will add critical new environmental impact components to the effort. One of the biggest questions is how the supplement can be produced in large enough quantities and at a reasonable enough cost to make a dent in worldwide farming operations.

This is great, but it would be even better from our perspective if these supplements also worked on teenage boys.

A whale of a controversy

A long-anticipated ruling by the National Marine Fisheries Service aimed at protecting the endangered North Atlantic right whale was issued late last summer; it drew fire both from environmentalists who think the new rules do not go far enough and lobster fishermen who disagree with the science and say the rules unfairly target them. At press time, multiple lawsuits over the rules had been filed or were in the works.

North Atlantic right whales are considered a critically endangered species, with only an estimated 368 left in the world. The new rules are intended to comply with the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act to reduce fishing gear entanglement and vessel strikes on whales throughout their range in the North Atlantic.

The new rules set aside a 967-square-mile area in the Gulf of Maine where fishermen can apply for permits to use “ropeless” gear, but may not set traps with vertical lines. An estimated 62 fishermen from Stonington to Boothbay Harbor are expected to be affected by the closure, according to NMFS.

The new rules also: require lobster fishermen to reduce the number of vertical lines by setting more traps between buoy lines; require weak links in lines; and require state-specific gear markings.

Gear changes will go into effect May 1, 2022, and implementation of the seasonally restricted areas will begin this October.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association said it is committed to actions that recover the right whale but called for a conservation plan “supported by scientific evidence” that also includes measures implemented in Canada and by the U.S. shipping industry.

Environmentalists said the rule didn’t go far enough and put too much reliance on weak rope. Stay tuned.

Photo courtesy Katherine Given

Rubber ducky, you’re the one

Just when the resurgence of COVID was getting us down, a 25-foot-tall bright yellow rubber duck emblazoned with the word “joy” appeared mysteriously during the overnight hours of Aug. 14 in Belfast harbor and just as mysteriously disappeared a week or so later. Belfast Harbor Master Katherine Given said she suspects the duck was removed due to concerns regarding Tropical Storm Henri. During its time in Belfast the duck became a minor celebrity with onlookers in Belfast and the media. It remains unclear who exactly was responsible for its arrival, although the harbor master received an anonymous press release from someone claiming to be responsible.

“JOY simply is fowl play. In this day and age of such bitter divisiveness in our country, we wanted to put forth a reminder of our commonalities instead of our differences. Nothing embodies childhood more than being in a warm bath with your rubber ducky – the joy of not having a care in the world other than having to remember to wash behind our ears,” the release stated.

The note indicated that after departing Belfast, the duck might land somewhere else. Various unnamed Islesboro residents confirmed later in the fall that the duck had been spotted in Crow Cove. No one is admitting publicly who might have been behind the stunt.

Puffin and tern chicks dying off

But not all Penobscot Bay waterfowl are as joyous as Belfast’s big duck. Protected seabirds such as puffins, terns and razorbills are not producing as many chicks as they should on Maine’s islands, and the chicks that are hatched are underweight and struggling, according to a story in the Courier Gazette. “Ninety percent of the puffin and over 85 percent of the tern chicks on Petit Manan Island died this summer,” wildlife biologist Linda Welch of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service told the newspaper. “Some of the other islands did a bit better, but overall, the lack of food and poor weather resulted in low productivity rates for the terns and puffins.” The birds are struggling to find fish to feed their chicks as warming water temperatures have driven fish down deeper. In addition, cold rainy weather has also been hard on young chicks that have not yet grown protective feathers. The good news is that puffins have a long lifespan of up to 30 years and it is possible for them to bounce back after a bad year, but Welch notes there have now been multiple bad years.

Historic schooner capsizes

The Maine Maritime Museum’s newly restored historic schooner the Mary E. suffered a catastrophic knock down last summer that left the vessel lying on its side in the Kennebec River on the night of July 30. The schooner, which was carrying 15 passengers and three crew members who all were safely rescued, was later towed to Robinhood Marine in Georgetown.

One passenger told media outlets that the boat was in the process of changing course when it was hit by a gust and slowly went over on its side. Local firefighters rescued all 18 people and took them to shore. Three people were taken to a hospital, U.S. Coast Guard officials said at the time, according to the Bangor Daily News.

The museum acquired the Mary E. in 2017 and restored it on site. The schooner is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the only Kennebec-built schooner still afloat, according to the museum.

The incident is under investigation by the Coast Guard.

Charting an evolution

Paper charts like the ones many of us learned to navigate on decades before GPS are becoming as obsolete as the outhouses some of our parents used to boast about.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is continuing to sunset the raster nautical chart files that are currently used to produce and print traditional paper nautical charts. The shift will happen gradually over the next 5 years and NOAA plans to give six months’ notice before any specific raster chart number is discontinued. In place of the raster files, NOAA is transitioning to a relatively new system called the “NOAA Custom Chart” program which produces paper charts using data from NOAA’s Electronic Nautical Chart database. The folks at Maptech, which publishes charts and cruising guides, say they have been getting inquiries from customers about the process and the future of paper for navigation.

“We are supporting this transition and are working closely with NOAA to provide input regarding chart features and attributes that our customers rely upon for navigation information,” Maptech noted in a press release. “Our goal is for the NCC program to produce charts that are similar in appearance and the functional equivalent of NOAA’s time-proven traditional paper charts.

Paper charts are an essential component of safe navigation on most vessels (especially recreational vessels that do not have the means to support multiple redundant electronic systems).”

We agree, and as a result plan to treat our stash of paper charts like gold. No more using them as impromptu tablecloths for lunch at the nav station.

Pilot project for local tide data

Meanwhile, US Harbors—which by the way also prints custom charts—has partnered with Divirod, a data and technology company that produces tidal and water-monitoring sensors, on a pilot program to monitor local tides and sea-level rise in Maine. The six-month program will include five sites, with a primary focus on communities in Penobscot Bay: Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Tenants Harbor, and Belfast.

NOAA maintains 200 live observational tide stations in the United States. But tide predictions for most coastal towns are algorithmically derived (e.g., not based on actual observations). This gap in coverage makes it hard for local communities to fully understand—and plan effectively for—changes in storm surge trends and sea-level rise. US Harbors, a national company based in Rockland, Maine, has been looking for affordable solutions to this issue, explained company president Anastasia Fischer. During the trial, which began in late September, each site will have access to hyper-local tidal data as well as a flood alert service. The objective is to determine solutions for long-term monitoring of sealevels that are accessible to small municipalities, Fischer said. Divirod’s technology is not intrusive, requires minimal maintenance, and has been extensively correlated with NOAA sources, according to Fischer.

The stations consist of a small box and antenna mounted on a pole or dock piling. They can be powered either by standard electricity or solar power. Data is collected from the stations via satellites and aggregated by Divirod, which then shares that data with the community through a dashboard and alert system. The system allows the community to view, analyze, and monitor changes in sea level in their exact location.

The five pilot locations will receive tidal data reporting and flooding alert services from Divirod for 6 months free of charge. At the end of the six months, stakeholders will be asked for feedback on various aspects of the technology and data service. US Harbors and Divirod will also aggregate the tidal data to evaluate trends, and share those findings with key players in the Maine state government and NOAA.

Soup kitchen feast

Diners at the Belfast Soup Kitchen got a big treat when the crew of a lobsterboat donated a 600-pound tuna to the cause.

Crew members from J & J Lobster were catching bait on the coastline when they hooked the tuna, according to a report by the Associated Press. What they thought was a seal turned out to be a massive bluefin tuna. The crew was not initially authorized to bring the tuna to shore, since they were fishing for bait. But, according to the AP report, the state Marine Patrol allowed the crew to bring the fish in if they could find a place to donate it.

They reached out to the Belfast Soup Kitchen and its executive director, Cherie Merrill. The kitchen regularly serves 150 people for five days of the week, according to the AP report.

A round of applause for…..

Poet, art critic, and MBH&H writer Carl Little has been honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation. The award comes with $50,000. The Portland-based foundation is dedicated to recognizing and rewarding writers who make art accessible to general audiences.

For more than 30 years, Little has been one of the primary cultural connections between Maine and New York, writing about the Maine art scene for national publications and about the larger art world for Maine magazines, including MBH&H.

MBH&H Editor Polly Saltonstall said Carl has a great talent for explaining why art matters. “I love working with him as a writer because he is so sensitive to detail. He doesn’t just describe what he sees; rather he seeks to understand the artist as a person and what inspires their work, and then explains that in ways that make the work accessible even to people who are not art insiders.”

Suzette McAvoy, recently retired director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland, described Little as a champion of art and artists in Maine and beyond.

Little earned an MFA in poetry from Columbia University. After graduating, he contributed to Arts Magazine and in 1986 became an associate editor at Art in America, continuing to write for that magazine and others after moving to Maine in 1989. For 25 years he has written artist profiles and features for Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors. Little also has published 30 art books and a number of monographs about Maine artists, as well as two collections of his poetry.

The Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation gives annual prizes to eight visual art journalists from across the country. This is the third time the foundation has given a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Fast-growing marine business

Marina Holdings LLC, which is comprised of Yarmouth Boat Yard, Moose Landing Marina, and Freedom Boat Club of Maine made Inc Media’s annual Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our hardworking crew,” stated Steve Arnold, owner of Marina Holdings. “Last year was extremely difficult for a number of reasons. Our team not only stepped up to the plate, they excelled, helping to propel us to record growth.”

Students help track river health

Students at the Maine Ocean School in Searsport began a citizen scientist project this fall. In the project, funded by the National Science Foundation, students will contribute to the research on the dynamics of the Penobscot River Estuary, conducted by Lauren Ross, an assistant professor of hydraulics and water resources at the University of Maine.

Students will support the collection of data from 12 spots along the estuary during this 5-year study. The data will help quantify the mixing process of salt and fresh water in estuaries. At the conclusion of this study, students will understand the differences among estuaries, be able to explain simple tidal and volume conservation theory, as well as utilize data visualization tools.

The Maine Ocean School is a public magnet high school, which incorporates an ocean-themed curriculum to provide students with the skills needed for jobs in Maine and on the ocean. All residents of Maine may attend free of charge, either in person or virtually. Applications can be found at

Maritime Academy expands

Maine Maritime Academy’s Center for Professional Mariner Development on the site of the former paper mill in Bucksport continues to expand rapidly and flex to meet the training requirements of mariners and the maritime industry as the limitations of 2020 ease, according to a press release from the school.

A four-story, three burn room, live-fire training facility will be completed on-premises by the year’s end. The live-fire facility will also support working at heights training. Cooperative ventures in offshore wind safety and autonomous smart vessel technology are also in the works. Enrollments in key USCG Standards Training Certification and Watchkeeping courses have increased dramatically, and in the past 11 months the center has instructed over 800 mariners in more than 103 classes, the release noted.

The center offers online, hybrid, and in-person courses. Of the 33 courses currently offered, specialized instruction such as Fast Rescue Boat, Tankship Dangerous Liquids, Basic and Advanced Firefighting, Vessel Personnel with Designated Security Duties, Leadership & Managerial Skills, Engineroom Resource Management, Management of Electrical and Electronic Control, Crisis & Crowd Management, and Helicopter Underwater Egress Training are receiving the most interest.

Salmon farm plans in the news

A state investigation of a die-off of close to 100,000 salmon at an aquaculture site off Mount Desert Island determined that no rules were broken, according to a report in the Bangor Daily News.

The die-off occurred at Cooke Aquaculture’s fish farm off Black Island between MDI and Swan’s Island. Cooke Aquaculture reported the incident to the Maine DEP on Aug. 27. That was 11 days after the company, which operates roughly two dozen salmon farms along the Maine coast, first noticed the problem. The state’s investigation found that oxygen levels in water outside the pens were above the minimum limits, and that the pens where the fish died were not overcrowded, according to the newspaper report.

Farmed salmon is considered one of the largest fisheries in Maine, both in terms of volume and value. In 2010 more than 24 million pounds of the fish, with a wholesale sales value of more than $76 million, were produced in Maine, according to the state’s Department of Marine Resources. That was the last year the state released salmon production numbers because Cooke has been the sole producer and as such their data is considered proprietary, according to the BDN.

Three other firms are proposing to establish new salmon farms in the state, two on land and one in Frenchman Bay off Gouldsboro. Nordic Aquafarms has filed plans to build a land-based salmon production site in Belfast, and Whole Oceans has applied to farm salmon at the former paper mill site in Bucksport. Norway-based American Aquafarms has applied to farm 66 million pounds of salmon annually at pens in Frenchman Bay off Gouldsboro. Opponents have cited Cooke’s history of issues, and the potential for problems at other sea-based sites, as reasons why that application to lease 120 acres for the farm should be denied. More than 125 boats participated in a weekend protest against those plans last summer in a “Save the Bay” flotilla that motored around Frenchman Bay. 

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