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Institute gets claws on research for lobster industry

A scuba diver observes a lobster in its natural environment.
Courtesy photo
A scuba diver observes a lobster in its natural environment.

The University of Maine’s Lobster Institute is looking forward to a substantial donation from an Isleboro lobsterman.

Joshua Conover bought a new lobster boat and wanted to raffle off his old boat as a creative way to sell it. The goal was to raise $12,000 for the Lobster Institute by donating 10 percent of the first 100 tickets and complete proceeds from any tickets sold after that. This type of fundraising is considered gambling, so the raffle was stopped and the money raised was returned. Conover is now planning to sell his boat and donate 10 percent of the proceeds to the institute. Authorities did not take legal action against either the institute or Conover and instead told them to stop the raffle.

For 22 years, UMaine has been home to the Lobster Institute. The institute, located at 210 Rogers Hall, was created in 1987 by three organizations — the Maine Lobsterman’s Association, the Maine Import and Export Association, and the Lobster Pound Association — to help create industry rules and generate research on topics of interest and need.

The institute originally only covered Maine but has since expanded to cover from the Long Island Sound up to Newfoundland.

The Lobster Institute is a privately funded organization that gains its operating funds from fundraising events, donations and will bequeathals. The university assists the institute by providing the office space and partial salary support. Research is done at the institute by professors from UMaine and abroad.

“The wonderful thing about working with the university [is that] there’s all this talent just waiting to be used, so we pull them into as many research projects as possible,” said Cathy Billings, associate director for communications and development.

The institute uses a multidisciplinary approach with research in areas including sociology, anthropology, food sciences, and veterinary and animal science. These diverse fields allow the institute to gather information about what is going on in the different aspects of the lobstering industry.

“We act as a liaison between the industry and the university,” Billings said.

Several faculty members from these departments have conducted research beneficial to the institute.

James Acheson, an anthropology professor and board member of the Lobster Institute, is one of the faculty members whose research has benefited it. Acheson helps the Lobster Institute look at the lobstering community’s rules and industry-related legislation. Acheson is presently working on a National Science Foundation project to find out why the rules and regulations are more effective for lobstering than for the rest of the fishing industry.

Students also take part in the work done at the Lobster Institute. The multidisciplinary approach allows students from a variety of majors to apply their interests to projects. Students working on capstone projects and graduate students use the institute for schoolwork.

The institute and the university have a relationship that allows for mutual benefits. The institute gets to pull from the diversified staff, and the university is home to an institute that plays a key role in the Maine economy.

Bob Bayer, director of the institute, said being associated with UMaine allows the staff to collaborate with university researchers and work on issues they wouldn’t normally get to work on.

The annual Canadian/U.S. Lobstermen’s Town Meeting, hosted by the Lobster Institute, allows lobstermen from up and down the Eastern Seaboard to get together and discuss topics associated with the industry. This year’s event was held March 26 to 27 at the Regency Hotel in Portland.

“The great thing about this event is that it’s [involving] the actual people out there doing the work,” which allows lobstermen to discuss issues related to the industry, Bayer said.