Senator Christopher K. Johnson (D-Lincoln) committed to making good, science-based decisions when it comes to the State of Maine’s marine resources. The Senator, who chairs the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources, spoke yesterday during a Q & A session at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum at the Somoset Resort in Rockport, Maine. Johnson was one of seven committee members who participated in the session.
“I can’t speak for every member of this committee,” Senator Johnson said, “but I suspect that every one of us would support two things in the [the Department of Marine Resources]’s budget that are under pressure, and one of them is having good assessments of the resources. The other is funding more research than we have today to know better what the influences are on the health of those resources.”
While the sentiment was well received within the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and by the general public who tend to agree management decisions should be based on good data, a source within DMR expressed skepticism. “It’s not that they don’t want to support doing the science,” he said under condition of anonymity, “but it’s not really their call.” Science, the source went on to say, costs money, and top DMR officials have recently indicated the money they need may not be available.
Last Wednesday, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher stated in a press conference organized by Governor Paul LePage‘s office that the growing costs of Medicaid in the State is affecting DMR’s ability to carry out necessary science–even when it comes to the high-profile lobster fishery. Keliher was quoted in the Bangor Daily News, saying, “Our ability to do additional research, to make determinations to ensure the information we have right now is accurate, to make future management decisions, is jeopardized — jeopardizing 5,000 license holders and an industry worth upwards of $900 million for our coastal communities.” The press conference during which Keliher spoke was criticized by some as being politically motivated and part of a concerted effort by the LePage administration to halt Medicaid expansion.
At the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, nonetheless, Johnson was undaunted, at least insofar as his vocal support of science-based resource management is concerned. “There are a lot unknowns today,” he said. “We’re committed–and we’ve agreed as a committee at the outset–we’re committed to making good decisions based on science. Without reliable science answering a number of our questions, that’s a hard thing to do.”