Oceans in the Balance: Ted Ames

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Ted Ames smiling and sailing on Penobscot Bay, off the coast from Camden, Maine. (Photo by Emily Davidow; more photos from Pop!Tech 2007)

Sailing from Camden through Penobscot Bay on the Appledore schooner, Ted Ames, the only lobsterman to receive a MacArthur Genius Grant, shared insights on the waters he knows so well with a small group of Pop!tech participants.

Ames pointed out that the waters we were sailing through had been fished hard and continuously for the past 300-400 years. He shared some big fish tales, showing pictures of a 92 year old halibut over 300 lbs caught in these waters. They used to be rich in cod, winter flounder, haddock, salmon, turbot, orange roughy and other species, supporting 3000-4000 fishermen between here and Canada. The stocks collapsed 12 years ago from here to Canada, and they haven’t come back.

Ted knows that fishermen know a great deal about the areas they fish and set out to gather fisherman’s ecological knowledge and map it on a GIS system. They gathered ecological data from when fishing was good and pooled finescale data on spawning, habitat and fishing patterns to know what they are trying to rebuild and manage and to create a fishery recovery plan for the Eastern waters. We know now that cod only spawn on coastal shelves, and today most inner spawning grounds are barren.

Turns out the lobster fishery also collapsed — back in the 1930’s. How has it turned into the $280 million lobster fishery it is today, yielding 60 million pounds of lobster a year with 14,000 fishermen, 7,000 of whom are owner operators?

They have developed a management plan on 5 ecologically sound principles:

  • protecting the habitat by using traps
  • protecting reproduction
  • protecting juveniles
  • controlling efforts through trap limits, owner-operator and apprentice programs
  • management stewardship with area councils of elected fisherman-reps and 2 year apprentices.
Lobster StewLobster stew in Camden, Maine, across from the Appledore Schooner.

Advice from Ames:

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