“She’s a good leader, a real asset to the industry; we’re awful lucky to have her,” says Pat White of Patrice Farrey, who last November became executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. Farrey took over the job after working for two years as associate director. White had served as executive director for the past 12 years and wanted to decrease his duties. He remains on board as chief executive officer.

Farrey brings diverse educational background and work experience to the job.

After graduating from University of Maine with a BA in International Affairs, she served in the Peace Corps on the Caribbean Island of Santa Lucia, where she worked with disabled people and helped start a wheelchair factory.

“Living on Santa Lucia and seeing the deforestation and other ecological problems in a place that was too impoverished to have money to address environmental concerns made me think about going into some sort of natural resource management,” she says. When she returned to the states she worked for a year with a youth aquatic program in Massachusetts, and during that time, explored options for graduate school. She decided to enroll in the natural resource management program at University of Vermont, with an emphasis on marine sciences.

Farrey, who grew up in Massachusetts and summered in York, Maine, worked for a while helping local governments in Washington and Hancock Counties plan how they wanted to manage their natural resources. She says that experience taught her to listen carefully to understand what is valued by different communities. “That’s been very helpful in working with the lobster industry,” she says.

She also ran the Marine Environmental Research Institute, a private marine education center in Brooklin, before leaving Maine to work for two years in the Conservation Department of the New England Aquarium. Part of her job there was to participate in stakeholder meetings with fishermen and help organize a lobster summit for U.S. and Canadian fishermen.

“I was very impressed with Patrice’s work then,” says White, who also worked on the summit. “I used to joke with her and say, ‘When you’re finished with your work at the aquarium, why don’t you come up to Maine and help us out?’ “

She took him up on the invitation, and now is immersed in a whirlwind of MLA needs, from attending “tons of meetings” where she represents the MLA point of view on numerous issues – to handling office administration and helping develop new programs like the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation (GOMLF).

She says she feels it is extremely important for her to maintain a presence and continue to inform groups such as the West Nile Virus Working Group or agencies and communities discussing spraying for brown tail moth that without her input would not be considering the lobster industry perspective. She spends considerable time educating members of the Maine legislature and congressional delegation about MLA concerns, and attends lobster zone council and Lobster Advisory Council meetings.

During recent months, one of Farrey’s most important jobs has been to stay on top of developments regarding groundfishing regulations. “To me, that’s a cornerstone for the future of fisheries,” she says. “In recent years, when fishermen have been closed out of groundfishing, many have sold their boats, bought smaller ones and gone into lobstering. But lobsters cannot support the whole world. The lobster catch has been at a historic high until last year’s decline. If it continues to decline, the fishermen will be strangled.”

Fishermen, she believes, must continue to have the option to fish for other species, even if that access is limited.

“Historically, nobody ever made a living on one species,” she notes. “If we don’t sustain the capability for multi-species fishing, I don’t see how we can still have fishing communities.”

Proposed regulations to protect right whales create another threat she believes is particularly dangerous for lobstermen. She has spent a lot of time talking with members of Congress about alternatives to closing large areas to fishing, which recently happened in waters off the Massachusetts coast, where 1,700 square miles were shut down and fishermen ordered to remove their gear in 48 hours.

“I’ve let our Congressional delegation know it would be nothing short of disaster if that happened in Maine,” she says. “There’s no place to move all that gear to, and if there were any weather to contend with, it would be totally unworkable.”

Farrey is dismayed by the continual threat of environmental lawsuits and that they have become the engine for fishing regulations. “Good industry involvement in a lawsuit is excruciatingly expensive,” she notes, and says that prevents fishermen from having a voice in a regulatory process that occurs in the courts. She says she often invites people in the management process to come out on the water and see for themselves what things like gear modification mean to lobsterman. She herself remains in close touch with the everyday realities of fishing by participating in sea sampling for the state of Maine. Three times a month, six months of the year, she goes out with a different lobsterman in the southern part of Maine to measure all the lobsters brought up in each trap. “I made a commitment to do it because I hadn’t had a lot of water experience,” she says. “It keeps me in touch and helps me understand the cycle of the lobster season.”

Two important accomplishments during her tenure at MLA so far, Farrey says, have been urging the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to conduct experiments to test the effects of spraying for brown tail moth on the lobster population in areas sprayed and helping establish the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation.

We’ve helped DMR get the monitoring gear out in the field,” she said, “and this year, we convinced them to use smaller lobsters in the experimental traps so we could determine if the pesticide has any interference with lobster health when they molt four or five times.”

Previously, DMR used adult lobsters that went through only one molt.

The goal of the foundation, established 18 months ago, is to bring together fishermen, scientists and other individual stakeholders in the lobster industry for collaborative research projects to collect long-term data. According to Pat White, the foundation arose primarily out of his frustration that so many grants were given out to collect short-term data. Long-term data, he believes, is needed to influence management decisions in the future and contribute to maintaining sustainable fisheries.

The foundation has received widespread support from the Maine congressional delegation and members of the scientific community. It is seeking long-term funds from corporations and other organizations. Grant money from the Northeast Consortium has funded Environmental Monitors on Lobster Traps (e-MOLT), a project to collect continuous data on bottom temperature and salinity in 100 traps set by 60 lobstermen. GOMLF is also conducting a juvenile lobster trap survey and continues to collect V-notch data on oversize lobsters from fishermen.

Farrey says she is also pleased that her faithful attendance and input at meetings of the West Nile Virus Working Group seemed to have some influence on the group’s recently issued operational plan.

“Their plan is very heavily weighted towards educating municipalities early about ways residents can protect themselves,” she says, “and that was something I was harping on all along. I was glad that they came out and said they did not recommend at this time that towns do any spraying with adulticides or larvicides. They’re still struggling to understand all implications of the pesticide issue and are waiting to see what kind of presence the virus has in Maine this year.”

Farrey says the multiple demands of her job are at times overwhelming, but she is quick to add that she feels lucky and honored to be so closely involved. “My work needs to really matter,” she says. “I wouldn’t be motivated to go in and do something like just punch numbers.”