Paul Anderson, the executive director of Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, plans to retire and the nonprofit is starting a national search for a new leader. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries

A fisheries nonprofit in the state’s largest lobster port is seeking a new leader that will help continue its mission of sustainability in fisheries in the future.

Executive director Paul Anderson recently announced his plans to retire from Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries later this year. During his five years at the helm, he helped foster an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management that was the mission of founding executive director Robin Alden.

Located on the Stonington waterfront, the nonprofit has worked over the years to facilitate dialogue between researchers, government agencies and fishermen. Whoever takes over as executive director will need to help guide the organization take on increased regulation on lobstermen and the downturn of right whales, climate change and offshore wind.

“They’re all high level problems, but our fishing community and seafood economy can prosper. We can figure out how to survive and be sustained and help our communities,” Anderson said.  

Founded in 2003, the organization has a mission to secure a sustainable future for fisheries and fishing communities in eastern Maine. Anderson worked for 16 years at Maine Sea Grant at the University of Maine and a decade at the Maine Department of Marine Resources before taking over the leadership role there in 2017 from Alden.

The center lives in a “space between science, community and policy,” according to Anderson. It often works as a sort-of liaison between regulators, scientists and fishermen. The nonprofit also conducts research, helps develop fishery management strategies and runs educational programs for high school-age fishermen.

Transitioning away from a founder can be a challenge, said Walter Kumiega, the chairman of the center’s board of directors, but Anderson has done well and kept the organization going during the pandemic.

“Surviving the pandemic has been a feat in itself,” Kumiega, a former state representative, said.

One of the biggest tasks during Anderson’s tenure was continuing Alden’s mission of fostering an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. The philosophy, which encourages regulators to look at ecosystems as a whole instead of species by species, is one that Anderson hoped incoming leadership would adopt as well.

“I think the mission of this center is right smack dab in the middle of helping these communities be more resilient,” Anderson said.

Ginny Olsen, a Stonington lobsterman and leader in the local lobster union, first got to know Anderson when he worked at Maine Sea Grant.

“He was really an integral part of my becoming involved in the regulatory process and advocacy,” she said.

Under Anderson’s guidance, the center has helped educate the public on fisheries in a community that lives and dies on lobstering.

“Paul was really good at furthering that mission,” Olsen said.  

The center kicked off a national search for Anderson’s replacement this week. He has agreed to stay on until the board finds someone. Ideally that would be by this summer, Kumiega said.

Anderson plans to continue to be involved in fisheries as a volunteer, but said he is ready to give up the leadership role at the center so he can spend more time on his other interests, including community radio, gardening and music.

“It’s been really amazing to do this work and I fully believe in the mission of this strong organization,” he said. “I’m just ready to slow down personally.”