Mar 3, 2007

Chilloa-ing effect on free speech at Maine Fishermen's Forum

Struggle to protect nearshore fishing grounds divides forum organizers. Opponents of efforts by the Samoset Resort to gain state permission to build a 550 foot yacht pier in a nearby Rockland Harbor commercial lobstering area brought their grievances to the Maine Fishermen's Forum in the form of a flyer featuring a photo of a lobsterman fishing the area that would be "taken" by the Samoset for its pier, floats, dozens of moorings and its no-fishing yacht access lanes.

The popular Fishermen's Forum brings hundreds of Maine lobstermen and other fishworkers together each year for three days of networking and seminars on the industry, marine science and fishery regulations

The flier about the breakwater controversy was liberally distributed throughout the Forums' display table areas on several days.

On Saturday, copies of it reached Samoset officials, and shortly after that, a grim-faced Chilloa Young, forum organizer, stalked through the halls with Maine SeaGrant official Paul Anderson sheepishly in tow, seizing about half of the offending literature before it was taken up by fishermen browsing over the dozens of display tables.

Asked if she had vetted all fliers at the Forum, or was quashing the lobstermen's complaint at the bidding of the resort, Young said that only those that paid for display space could distribute fliers at the event. (Needless to say, a small but significant percentage of the fliers at the Forum were from groups that had NOT paid for space, but being inoffensive to the owners of the facility, remained on display.)

The flier's distributors learned an important lesson: the bright red headlines of the second wave of fliers made them easy prey for the censors. The black and white version distributed Thursday apparently escaped their attention.

The incident showed both the clout of the well-connected Samoset resort's owners, who are being represented before state environmental agencies by the governor's brother Robert Baldacci, and the timidity of the commercial fishing industry's boosters in Maine, who frequently look the other way when big development projects gnaw away important inshore fishing grounds. Tsk tsk Chilloa and Paul...Whose side are you on, anyway?

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