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Archives: Spring 2002 Table of Contents
Adopt-A-Boat Links Fishermen and Educators
by Andrea Cohen, MIT Sea Grant

Tim Alley, captain of the 72-foot trawler, the Bay Flyer, is accustomed to long, rough days at sea. But recently he found himself barraged, not by weather or waves or regulations, but by questions from a couple crackerjack cub reporters—second-grade students visiting from South Bristol Elementary School. The students and Alley are participants in Adopt-a-Boat, an innovative new project in which New England fishermen partner with local educators and their classes. The collaborative program uses commercial fishing boats as a vehicle for teaching K-12 students about marine resource utilization, marine ecology, and life as a fisherman. The project is funded by the Northeast Consortium and coordinated by MIT Sea Grant (MITSG).

Adopt-a-Boat got its start at a meeting of Fleetlink—a project in which fishermen partner with scientists, using their vessels as research platforms. Cameron McClellan, captain of the Adventurer of Portland, noted that the data he'd collected was already being used at his son's school in New Hampshire. "We immediately realized that this kind of partnership was a natural activity," says Cliff Goudey, MITSG's marine advisory leader. He and Brandy Moran, MITSG education coordinator, then set about lining up the 11 classrooms and eight fishermen for the first year's pilot project.

Captain Mattie Thomson and Canaan Elementary School
Jeannine Brady's third-grade class at Vermont's Canaan Elementary, in the replica they constructed of the F/V Striker, complete with Captain Mattie Thomson.

While the concept of stewardship via "adopt-a-something" programs isn't new, Adopt-a-Boat differs from other such programs, says project coordinator Moran. "A lot of those programs are related to a specific location or environment," she says. "This is related to an industry." Goudey adds that Adopt-a-Boat is special "because of the depth of support we're prepared to give to make the partnerships work." Along with funds and time, this support has included supplies such as nautical charts for teachers, digital cameras for all fishermen, and computers for some, since electronic communication is critical for spanning distances between boats and classes.

Flexibility has proven key to the program. "We work with each teacher to help figure out how Adopt-a-Boat can work with his or her class," says Moran. "Partly this is because we are dealing with such a wide range: K-12." Currently, the project involves schools in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The fishermen are based in Maine and Massachusetts and fish the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank with a variety of vessel types.

Partnerships involve visits to classes and vessels, and regular email exchanges. At Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, NH, Dean Goodwin's 9th grade and Advanced Placement environmental students are conducting research projects using real-time data telemetered from McClellan's trawler. Goodwin and his students also took an overnight research cruise with McClellan, gaining hands-on experience with the vessel's technology, equipment, and safety procedures.

At Essex Agricultural High School, Amy Holt Cline's 11th grade students are paired with Nino Randazzo, captain of the Skimmer, out of Gloucester, Mass. Cline's students are analyzing Randazzo's catch data and will use GIS technology to make maps showing how permanent and rolling fishing closures, shipping lanes and marine sanctuaries play a role in keeping the Gulf of Maine a sustainable resource. Students are also learning about groundfish biology by raising fish in a 100-gallon re-circulating system built by Moran and Goudey. The class also plans to visit with National Marine Fisheries Services officials to better understand the regulations that govern New England fisheries.

Third graders in Jeannine Brady's class at Canaan Elementary were able to pose questions on videotape to their Maine fisherman, Mattie Thompson. In turn, Thompson was videotaped aboard the Striker in Monhegan Bay showing the Vermont students the difference between male and female lobsters and just how lobster gear works.

Students making ocean boxes
Students in Lee Ann Kinen's 3rd grade at Maine's Houlton Elementary mkaing ocean boxes.

For students and teachers, the partnerships allow a meaningful introduction to the fishing industry, marine science, coastal management and more. The incentives for busy fishermen to get involved are varied. Chris Andrews, captain of the November Rain, out of Portland, Maine, is partnering with Margaret Morton's 7th and 8th graders at South Bristol Elementary School, in South Bristol, Maine. He says, "I like working with kids and it’s good to give something back." And like others, Andrews notes that the partnerships provide an opportunity to give the public a better representation of fishermen. "Fishermen get a bad rap from the press, but we’re the most environmentally conscious people because we have to make a living from the environment," he says.

The partnerships also allow fishermen to simply share their enthusiasm for their profession. "It's a job and a religion and a way of life all rolled into one. And it's a hobby too," says Mattie Thompson. What would Nino Randazzo tell youngsters interested in fishing for a living? "I'd tell them that it's a beautiful thing," he says. But he adds what any fisherman will note, that the fishing life has changed dramatically due to ever changing and more restrictive regulations. Craig Pendleton, captain of the Susan & Caitlyn, out of South Portland and Newcastle, Maine, was also involved with Fleetlink and sees education as a way of helping fishing communities "return to looking at fishing as an integral part of the community."

Students with constructed seastars
Houlton students and five-armed friends.

Part of what makes the program work so well, says Goudey, may well be the fact that teachers and fishermen share much in common. He points out that both professions draw highly committed individuals who often could not conceive of other professions. "Teaching and fishing both involve oft-repeated tasks," he comments, "and the outcome is never predictable." And both teachers and fishermen have found that their work environments have grown remarkably more complex with increased regulations.

Plans for the project's second year call for an increased number of fishing boats, and the participation of some 100 classrooms in the Northeast. All the first-year classes have signed up for year two, and another 50 have already expressed interest in getting aboard. As to the success so far, Goudey says: "It was an idea whose time had come or was way overdue. That's usually what makes a project sizzle."

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