Gulf of Maine funding sponges threaten to uselessly absorb Obama Bucks

By Ron Huber | Feb 18, 2009

Augusta — Is it a case of : "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."?
Or is it:
"The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."?

In the case of the Gulf of Maine Restoration Collaborative, one hopes the former, but fears the latter.

For decades, Maine has had a small community of on-the-government-payroll coastal marine advocates, who revolve themselves through the doors of the Maine Coastal Program, the Department of Marine Resources, Maine SeaGrant and the Maine Cooperative Extension marine team . Shifting, as the years and decades pass, from organization to agency and back again as the funding shifts. Attending, inoffensively to be sure, Maine's many fishing industry regulatory meetings, taking part in state and federal sponsored research panels and keeping a harem of private consultants on call upon whom to shower grant monies that pass through their disbursing hands.

With the combined talents and energies of this merry band, and the greater Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment, one would think that every ill that afflicts the Maine coast and its coastal waters: pollution, habitat loss, coastal sprawl, inappropriate fishing tech, mal-regulated aquaculture - every one of these challenges would have been met long ago.

Guess again.

These folks have met and spent much time (decades) and treasure on "task forces" designed to take on "bay management, aquaculture reform and more.
Those task forces have steamed furiously about the Gulf of Maine, holding meetings, dispensing coffee, catered lunches, grants and goodwill. But these task forces - run by the very same people who (see below) now want $500,000 dollars of stimulus money to outfit another intellectual armada - have always returned empty-handed.

The Maine Bay Management Study and the Maine Aquaculture Task Force (21pg pdf) illuminate this nicely. Both well funded initiatives, they brought together the above usual suspects and a few chosen hangers-on, held copious meetings with 'stakeholders' over the course of a year or more, teleconferenced mightily, and then at their close brought out lavishly illustrated reports that were completely barren of innovation.

Neither task force, however, proposed any changes to state law or state regulation to better manage Maine's bays, or to improve aquaculture operations. Nada. The reports do conclude, with a smirk, that more cash is desperately needed to finance further adventures of the task force voyageurs.

In fact, in a sort of mea culpa, David Keeley, former head of the Maine Coastal Program and now employed somewhere within the bi-national bureaucracy of the GOMCME, confesses the failure of he and his fellow taskforcers to protect natural Maine:

"The Gulf of Maine watershed—its streams, lakes, bays, and beaches—are damaged by untreated sewage, toxic pollution, invasive species, loss of wildlife habitat, abandoned fishing gear and other human-caused impacts," Keely writes, warning that "The problems are serious and many of them, have reached or are reaching crisis proportions."

So now Mr Keeley & friends, under whose guidance and direction that crisis has taken shape, wants $500,000 more to develop "a comprehensive ecosystem restoration strategy for the Gulf of Maine". What has he been doing the last twenty years? How many times must this wheel be reinvented?

For notice that this money would not be used to plant eelgrass, or to remove ghost traps from the water, or to in any way actualy restore any habitat or fish stock or do anything tangible.

No, it would be used to develop a "strategy". In other words, it would be spent for the creation of -what else- a task force, in which Keeley and his revolving door friends once more tootle about the Gulf of Maine region, lamenting the lack of research, genuflecting to the wisdom of the dragger fishing industry that has nearly destroyed the Gulf of Maine's fishes, noshing on catered luncheons and producing a report heavy on graphics but once again light on ideas.

Beyond -burp- demanding more money for more catered conferences.

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