January 20, 2014

Frenchman Bay Partners executive committee meeting

Location: MDI Bio Lab, Forest Conference Room with call-in

Date and Time: March 12, 2013, from 1:00-2:25pm

Present: Jane Disney (president), Chris Petersen (vice president), Emma Fox and Shannon White (both AmeriCorps Environmental Educators with the MDI Bio Lab). Fiona de Koning (executive officer at large) and Bridie McGreavy (secretary) called in. Bob DeForrest (executive officer at large) absent.

  1. 1.      Discussion about DMR Biotoxin Closure Hearings Announcement

The meeting was called to order.

The executive committee discussed the announcement that the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) sent out to resource user groups last week. Fiona de Koning planned to attend a meeting with the DMR the next day and agreed to make a statement on behalf of the Frenchman Bay Partners, if that was the committee consensus. Jane Disney wanted to discuss whether or not the partners have an official perspective on the DMR announcement, especially since the recent local agreements with mussel harvesters around eelgrass restoration sites. The concern is that statewide biotoxin closures would increase pressure on local mussel beds (because historically, Frenchman Bay has remained open during statewide closures), and put the restoration sites at risk, because only local harvesters are aware of those areas.

Fiona offered again to raise the issue during her informational meeting with DMR the following day. The draft proposal went out to mussel harvesters, oyster harvesters, and clam harvesters, but not other groups such as red tide monitoring volunteers and conservation organizations. There was a discussion about how the proposal seems like an attempt to save money, though the DMR will likely maintain frequency of testing in areas where aquaculture leases are, or other important resource sites. The other concern, in that case, is the impact such harvesting closures would have on local marine-based livelihoods. It would bring in a lot of competition, because in all likelihood, Frenchman Bay will have to remain open.

There was a discussion about building on the proposal to enhance Frenchman Bay Partners communication with local mussel harvesters. Bridie McGreavy intends to do follow-up interviews to the mussel-harvester collaboration event with a few key harvesters. This situation presents a unique opportunity to give the Frenchman Bay Partners a unified voice with the local harvesters. A discussion followed about whether the partners might ask DMR to consider partner input with respect to how resources are harvested in Frenchman Bay—all agreed that it is something to build up to. The partners have to show that they can get things done, first.

Clams are possibly not affected by DMR’s proposed closures, but more information is necessary. There was a discussion about airing Frenchman Bay Partners concerns about the proposed closures aggravating conflicts between local harvester groups and creating alternative conflicts with harvesters from outside Frenchman Bay. Letting the DMR in on Frenchman Bay Partners projects and concerns is probably the most important thing. It would also increase visibility for the partners.

Jane emailed Alison Sirois at the DMR to get a copy of the mussel proposal, and was encouraged by Alison to join at the March 27th informational hearing in Rockport. Jane’s plan is to share out Frenchman Bay Partners concerns and recent successes with eelgrass restoration and facilitating communication amongst local resource user groups.

Chris Petersen boiled the concerns down to two major points: 1) threats to marine-based livelihoods based on possible increased pressure on Frenchman Bay resources, especially in areas of conflict. 2) Threats to local agreements around eelgrass restoration areas—there is a concern about communicating the agreements broadly and not jeopardizing the recently secured resource. He emphasized that both points fit into the Frenchman Bay Partners mission. There was a discussion about local harvesters getting priority in Frenchman Bay, because such a set-up would circumvent issues about threats to local marine-based livelihoods and threats to eelgrass restoration in the bay, but all agreed that it was unlikely to happen. The wild mussel resource is not hugely abundant in Frenchman Bay because gas is so expensive—it costs a lot to get here. As a result, most of the harvest is aquaculture-related. The concern is about outside harvesters coming in, adding pressure and doing less targeted dragging because they don’t know the resource as well.

Shannon White and Emma Fox will craft talking points or a brief statement from the Frenchman Bay Partners, and the executive committee can send it out and get input on it from local harvesters as a way to better inform the statement. Jane could take the statement to the informational meeting in Rockport. The group agreed that Fiona should mention the Frenchman Bay Partners concerns at her meeting the following day, especially because there has been historical conflict in Frenchman Bay because it is an area that does not see too many red tide closures. There was a discussion about asking for the DMR’s help in what the Frenchman Bay Partners are doing, but it seemed that the relationship would be better if it grew of its own accord, so the DMR would not feel put on the spot or asked for money in any way. Avoiding raising red flags and approaching the DMR with a broader stakeholder base would be more beneficial to the long-term relationship.

Everyone agreed that key partners should be brought in, in an integrative kind of way. The Frenchman Bay Partners should act as a conduit through which partners work through the agreements. The Frenchman Bay Partners is another resource that people can come to and benefit from in the bay. The executive committee decided that there should be some kind of communication with the DMR about their proposed closures. The biggest issue was that the proposal did not go out to groups like volunteer phytoplankton monitors or conservation groups—not resource harvesters, but stakeholders in one way or another. Emma has been updating the Frenchman Bay Partners brochure, and can drop off a few copies, along with the maps of mussel harvesters areas, for Fiona to bring to the meeting.

  1. 2.      Executive Committee Business

There was a discussion about the executive committee meeting schedule, and whether it should be quarterly or monthly for now. The next meeting was scheduled for April 9th, at 1:00pm. The executive committee will try and do second Tuesday of the month for now. There was a discussion about committee structure, and who should to the planning. Bridie suggested a more decentralized model, with the executive committee initiating the meetings for those committees. Jane will call a meeting for the eelgrass committee; Natalie Springuel, of Maine Sea Grant, and Shannon will organize a meeting for the subtidal benthic habitats committee; Fiona, Bridie, and Chris will organize the mudflats committee meeting, Chris will organize a meeting for the diadromous fishes committee, and Bridie and Emma will organize a meeting of the communications committee. It will be important to have minutes from all of the subcommittee meetings sent to the communications committee to put on the Frenchman Bay Partners website.

Bridie suggested getting clam harvesters from the Regional Shellfish Committee involved on the mudflats committee early on, even if the Maine Community Foundation grant for the “610 Project” proposal does not come through—it would help having more harvesters involved from the get-go.

  1. 3.      Next steps

The executive committee discussed next steps. Jane is working on submitting a Walker Grant, and she will write Shannon in to stay with the Frenchman Bay Partners a little longer and for Jordan Bailey to keep her working on education and the Frenchman Bay Partners website, but there is not enough room in the Walker Grant to write in another AmeriCorps person. The partners may not have an AmeriCorps Environmental Educator in the short term after June unless someone else writes the position into a grant.

Jane is organizing to get Tundi Agardy, who is an internationally recognized conservation expert, to come to the MDI Bio Lab to present about market-based solutions to ecological problems. She will probably come in May, so the Frenchman Bay Partners executive committee needs to decide if they want a special planning session with her when she is in the area. Tundi will likely speak at the Bio Lab, and at College of the Atlantic while she is here.

Bridie and Emma are presenting a poster about Frenchman Bay Partners communications at the Maine Water Conference on Tuesday, March 19th, in Augusta. The executive committee needs to discuss authorship on presentations, posters, and papers—this item will be on the agenda at the next meeting.

Jane will be presenting about eelgrass restoration at the NEERS (New England Estuarine Research Society) conference on April 11th, in Portland. George Kidder, also of the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, and Jane will be in Boston on March 28th to give a poster about eelgrass restoration in Maine. The mussel harvester map is part of the presentation.

The final portion of this meeting focused on a discussion about the conservation action plan and some next steps. Shannon is working on gathering information for the subtidal benthic habitats target and is also working on clam data analysis for the mudflats target, so things are moving forward. Jane also talked about potentially getting Marcia Brown, of Foundations of Success, back to help the partners with more goal-setting. Jane noted that the FBP does not have a strategic plan yet and perhaps for next fall, the partners could put together another session that focuses on goals, strategies, and updating the bay plan. The partners will need to look at the most recent documents and examine whether or not data collection this summer will help with the goals already in place. There was a discussion about the projects that are already planned to take place this summer.

Shannon described the benthic survey Charlie Wray, of MDIBL, plans to do this summer. It will be a survey of several sites that were sampled in the late 1920s-30s by William Procter as well as several sites that were historic fishing grounds in Frenchman Bay. Surveying methods will include the use of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), which will take video footage of the bottom, survey by diver, and sampling using a box-dredge (or similar dredge).  Shannon has also been speaking with Rachael Miller of the Rozalia Project who will be working with Maine Coast Heritage Trust this summer. The Rozalia Project also has an ROV and are willing to spend 1-2 days to help with sampling of additional sites of interest in the bay.

Jane discussed eelgrass restoration work that is planned for the summer, which includes putting 700 eelgrass transplant grids in at Berry Cove and Thomas Island, putting test grids in at Jordan River and Goose Cove, and continuing with monitoring of patches at Berry Cove that were part of a slow-release nutrient experiment.

The partners should try and contribute a little bit to the salt water discovery trail—a project coordinated through one of the local kayak companies—to inform the tourists about the work of the Frenchman Bay Partners.

Mudflat work for the summer will depend on the Maine Community Foundation grant coming through. Jane is still happy to serve as an advisor to the committee.

Chris described that, in terms of diadromous fish work, there has been some rehabilitation of Flanders Stream. Also there has been some restoration work done on Jones Stream. Chris also mentioned that there is smelt data for the last 5 years and that he would be doing some surveying with students in April and May.

Potential goals for the first subcommittee meetings were then discussed: 1) outline projects, such as what can be done with or without funding, and 2) develop a contact list, including who else should be involved on each subcommittee.

Bridie and Emma have a few interviews to do yet, so they can extend subcommittee invitations to the people they interview, particularly clam harvesters and maybe mussel harvesters. Jane mentioned that the Frenchman Bay Partners will be presenting to Zone B lobstermen on April 8, so perhaps we could ask someone from that meeting to join the benthic subcommittee.

There was a discussion about whether or not the Frenchman Bay Partners is still in stakeholder engagement mode and who are the stakeholders we are engaging next—the executive committee decided that yes, the partners are still in engagement mode. The partners would like to see the business community, developers, and the chamber of commerce become engaged. Jane would like to engage them before Tundi Agardy comes to visit in May. For now, getting names down (people who know people) is perhaps the most effective and natural way to branch out.

Meeting adjourned.

More information to come about the DMR proposal.