Gov. Paul LePage attended the 36th annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockport Friday, where he addressed more than 300 fishermen, clammers, lobstermen, aquaculturalists, scientists, fisheries regulators, and others involved in the fishing industry.

He arrived at 10 a.m., and spent approximately 15 minutes in a suite talking with staff before he emerged, walking through the halls of the Samoset Resort, which were filled with forum attendees. LePage took another 10 minutes passing through the trade show and speaking with constituents, and then approached the podium in a standing-room-only ballroom.

“My number one priority is for prosperity of the state of Maine,” he told the 300-plus members of the fishing community in attendance, who included approximately 50 employees of the Maine Department of Marine Resources and marine patrol officers.

“It is a very difficult challenge, but I will tell you that in the next four years we are going to turn this state around,” he said.

LePage told those attending the region’s largest annual gathering of the fishing trade, which began Thursday and continues through Saturday, that he has charged newly appointed Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Norman Olsen with finding creative ways so that “the fishing industry thrives, grows and expands.”

He said Maine’s fishermen “have been great stewards,” and he intends to “push back against the federal government that’s trying to get us off the waters.” He said he recently was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of governors with federal administrators and that he told them states want “the flexibility to run our lives, our state and raise our families.”

“I would love to tell the federal government where to go but they won’t listen,” he said.

LePage said he wanted state government to get out of the way, too, of private business, and cited a bill that he supports which, if approved, would remove the sales tax on fuel used by groundfishing vessels to level the playing field with Massachusetts-based vessels. When later asked by someone in the audience why the bill did not include lobsterboats, LePage said he was going to address that.

LePage went on to say he favors attracting groundfishing vessels, their catch, and the plants that process that catch, back to Maine.

“We will continue to remove impediments to the processing sector, to give them the flexibility to create the products that today’s consumer demands,” he said. “When Maine processors have the freedom to innovate, the opportunities are endless.”

He said he was in favor of limiting the number of permits required by fishermen and reducing the number of fees imposed on them.

“My job as governor is to convince agencies to work with businessmen to prosper,” he said. “To work as a partner with you to move our industry forward.”

The goal, he said, is getting business prospering so that “state revenues can go up, which I expect they will, and I can go golfing.”

He also said he would investigate the federal law requiring fishing line that sinks so that there is less chance of whales becoming entangled.

“I’m working for the people of Maine, not the whales of Maine,” he said.

When asked if the state would partner with Maine’s fishing industry to market its goods, LePage said he agreed that Maine’s brand needed to be spread around the world. When asked if the Department of Marine Resources would “continue to be run by nonprofits,” LePage responded: “Commissioner Olsen is the boss of the DMR and nobody else is going to run it.”

“Maine’s fishing industry is key to ensuring our coastal communities have a secure future. The people of Maine need to know that they will have meaningful, sustained employment that will allow them to raise their families in their own communities. And the kids that are learning the ways of the water today need the option to stay in the industry, and their communities, when they grow up,” LePage said.

He did not, however, have kind words for daily newspapers, and said that although his staff did not want him to recount a conversation he had with an unnamed state senator, he was going ahead with it. The good senator, whom he wanted to protect and so would not identify, had told LePage, “Buying a Maine daily newspaper is like paying someone to lie to you.” That earned a laugh from the crowd and some applause.

Following LePage’s address, Olsen took to the podium, where he spoke for an hour with those gathered in the ballroom, fielding questions from fishermen from up and down the coast.

VillageSoup will provide more information about that exchange in a pending article.