This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Maine Fishermen’s Forum and Trade Show, a notable milestone worthy of celebration, recognition, and a few moments of personal reflection.
I haven’t been at all 40 forums – though I know several of you who have. My attendance record is probably closer to 30, but whatever the number, I have been to enough forums to appreciate some of the unique elements that make this event so special and enduring.
From the outset, the forum was planned as a getaway weekend for fishermen and their families. In the days when few of us could even dream about a family trip to Florida, the forum was a nice mini-vacation within the walls of the Samoset Resort.
While the grown-ups sat in on sessions or caught up with friends in the bar, the kids had the run of the hotel. Still do.
As I recall, Ricky Knight and I nearly went broke back in the day, keeping our kids in quarters for the arcade. Great entertainment for the price.
I sat in on the earliest discussions when the forum board was first contemplating adding a trade show.
The forum desperately needed a solid, sustainable source of funding in those days but there were those who feared a trade show would somehow commercialize the event or maybe make it lose some of its special flavor.
They could not have been more wrong.
The trade show was a success from the outset, but it has grown and established itself over the years and is now the largest annual expo of its kind in New England. Ponder that.
The dollars that forum exhibitors spend for their space on the trade show floor go a long ways toward keeping the forum itself – all of the seminars, workshops, meetings, and programs – free to attendees. Free, and open to all.
The forum has earned a well-deserved reputation as a must-do event for political figures in the state of Maine. For as long as I’ve been going, I believe every sitting governor has made a forum appearance, along with many state legislators, and most if not all members of Maine’s Congressional delegation.
And they are accessible.
I remember when my kids were little, my wife had taken them down for an early morning swim in the pool. Leaving the pool area, head down, wrapped in a Samoset robe, trying to herd the kids back to the room – she ran headfirst, literally, into a man in the crowded hallway, nearly knocking him off his feet.
It was Sen. George Mitchell, who never missed a beat.
After apologizing for running into my wife, which he hadn’t, he reached down, introduced himself, and shook hands with my son Matthew – a moment Matt has never forgotten. That’s the forum.
Legend has it that when Robin Alden, Jim Wilson, and a few others set out to launch the forum 40 years ago, they consulted meteorological records to find the spring weekend with the highest probability of bad weather.
The idea being: no one would be asked to give up any good fishing days and, if the weather was sufficiently nasty, you might actually keep fishermen holed up in the Samoset for a couple of days to sit down and engage.
I don’t know if that is true, but the first weekend in March has sure proven to be a weather wild card and … a great choice for forum dates.
The forum could not exist and absolutely would not have made this 40-year milestone, were it not for the efforts of its all-volunteer board of directors.
Those directors, who come from all segments of industry, put in long hours to assure that each successive forum weekend is true to the event’s unique mission and better than the last one. A tall order.
During my time on the board I was lucky to serve with folks like Pat White, Lou Grant, Pat Percy, Gail Johnson, Pike Barlett, and many others. The discussions were always lively, often passionate, and sometimes heated.
Penn Estabrook, who presided over the board for much of my term, was a master at letting the creative process flow while somehow maintaining order among a slightly unruly bunch.
That chemistry, which has been passed on to the current board, is essential to the forum’s success.
There’s more of course – the auction, the antics, the amazing forum scholorship program – that are clearly worthy of mention in any conversation about what makes the forum special.
But in closing, I have to reveal the secret ingredient. It’s you.
The Maine Fishermen’s Forum always has been and always will be for, and about, fishermen and their families – cutting across miles of coastline, multiple fisheries, many divergent opinions and agendas, and now, spanning at least a couple of generations.
So here’s to you, to the forum, to a great weekend this year, and many more to come.
Read the rest of this story and much, much more in the March issue of Commercial Fisheries News. Buy this issue or Subscribe.
(Read online immediately with access key and download for future reference.)