The program, which is overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provides approximately $1.2 million each year to roughly a dozen full-time researchers affiliated with the University of Maine.
Paul Anderson, who heads the Sea Grant program in Maine, said Thursday that a subcommittee of Appropriations that oversees funding for commerce, justice and science had voted earlier in the day to support funding the national Sea Grant program at $63 million.
If the subcommittee’s funding proposal makes it through to the final version of the 2017-2018 annual federal budget — which Congress is expected to approve by the end of September — it would keep alive a program that proponents say is vital to sustaining Maine’s $1.5 billion-plus commercial fishing industry.
“It’s way better than zero [dollars],” Anderson said of the subcommittee vote. “It’s very promising. We feel our advocacy [in support of the Sea Grant program] around the country has been effective.”
Regardless of the subcommittee’s support for the program, the chances of Trump’s proposed budget being approved without significant changes by Congress is unlikely, as several national media outlets have reported.
Congress has ultimate say over federal spending, not the president, and typically drafts its own budget proposals that then are revised through congressional committee negotiations before being approved and enacted.
Anderson spoke Thursday evening about the subcommittee vote at a public discussion at University of Southern Maine about how Trump’s proposed budget could affect commercial fisheries in Maine. More than 100 people attended the event, which featured speakers from Maine’s commercial fisheries and coastal marine stewardship groups.
Maine lobstermen caught more than $500 million worth of lobster in 2016, making it far and away the most significant fishery in Maine, said Dave Cousens, a South Thomaston lobsterman and president of Maine Lobstermen’s Association. When factoring in additional revenues generated by seafood dealers, supply and equipment sales, and other support businesses, the lobster industry generates $1.5 billion in profits each year in the state, he said.
And the Sea Grant program is the primary program that funds lobster biology and fishery research in Maine which, like other fisheries in the state, is affected significantly by climate change, he added.
The Trump Administration also has proposed slashing funding for the U.S. Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and for the Environmental Protection Agency, which provides about 20 percent of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection annual funding.