Gov. Angus King established the policy in his last State of the State address: Make Maine home of the world’s premier cold-water research facilities. Maine already has 14 institutions involved in marine research and a terrific potential to create new marine industries while educating the public about the resource.
The governor’s program, Jobs from the Sea, would attempt to maintain employment in traditional fisheries, double to 1,000 the jobs in aquaculture, use research to help increase employment in fields such as marine biotechnology and wood composites and take the Gulf of Maine into the classroom. To reach these goals requires support from the Legislature and the public. Lawmakers already have backed funding for two aquaculture positions — one for policy and one in pathology. The larger monetary questions, however, come in the form of bonds.
The governor’s bond package, submitted recently to the Legislature, asks voters to approve spending a total of $6 million: $1.5 million would go to marine infrastructure — ports and harbors; $4.5 million would be dispersed through a fund under the Maine Science and Technology Foundation. It is a modest start — too modest, in fact — for what could have huge returns for Maine.
Financial support for these proposals is critically important to developing the industry. Marine resources is one of Maine’s best opportunities for growth. It is one of the few fields in which Maine does not have to overcome its geography and can use the cold waters off its coast to the industry’s advantage. Marine development already shows immense promise. For less than $1 million in state funding during the last five years, for instance, marine-related scientific research has generated more than $40 million in economic activity. The bond package, while welcome, should better reflect this promise.
Through its new school of marine sciences the University of Maine is poised to become a national leader in cold-water fisheries. Maine Maritime Academy already has a tradition in supplying the hands-on research in the gulf — an expanded mission for the academy should be integral to the future of the marine sciences in Maine. The Gulf of Maine Aquarium in Portland, which is reaching out statewide to provide education on marine issues, could become a valuable resource for public schools, universities and research centers. Maine currently has in Mount Desert Biological Laboratory, Jackson Laboratory and elsewhere world-class biotechnology expertise.
The network in marine research is there, but it needs public support to grow. Maine should be prepared to invest in it through the bond questions. More significant bond packages should be developed. They are the bait that could catch Maine an industry as big as the gulf itself.