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Adopt-a-Boat links fishermen and educators

This article is adapted with permission from a story written by Andrea Cohen for the Spring 2002 issue of Two if by Sea, a joint newsletter of the MIT and WHOI Sea Grant Programs.

Tim Alley, captain of the 72-foot trawler Bay Flyer, is accustomed to long, rough days at sea. But earlier this year he found himself barraged, not by waves or regulations, but by questions from second-grade students.

The students and Alley are participants in Adopt-a-Boat , an innovative project funded by the Northeast Consortium and coordinated by MIT Sea Grant .

Adopt-A-Boat, which began last fall, partnered eight New England fishermen with 11 local educators and their classes. The program uses commercial fishing boats as a vehicle for teaching K-12 students about marine resource utilization, marine ecology and life as a fisherman. Now in its second year, the project has expanded to include 25 fishermen and close to 50 classrooms in the northeast.

While the concept of stewardship via "adopt-a-something" programs isn't new, Adopt-a-Boat is a bit different, according to MIT Sea Grant education coordinator Brandy Moran. "A lot of those programs are related to a specific location or environment," she said. "This is related to an industry."

Cliff Goudey, MIT Sea Grant's marine advisory leader, added that Adopt-a-Boat is special "because of the depth of support we're prepared to give to make the partnerships work." Along with funds and time, this support has included supplies such as nautical charts for teachers, digital cameras for all fishermen and computers for some, since electronic communication is critical for spanning distances between boats and classes.

Flexibility has proven key to the program. "We work with each teacher to help figure out how Adopt-a-Boat can work with his or her class," said Moran. "Partly this is because we are dealing with such a wide age range" of kindergarten through 12th grade.

Partnerships involve visits to classes and vessels as well as regular e-mail exchanges. At Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H., Dean Goodwin's ninth-grade and Advanced Placement environmental students conducted research projects using real-time data telemetered from Adventurer ,Cameron McClellan's trawler out of Portland, Maine. Goodwin and his students also took an overnight research cruise with McClellan, gaining hands-on experience with the vessel's technology, equipment and safety procedures.

At Essex Agricultural High School, Amy Holt Cline's 11th-grade students were paired with Nino Randazzo, captain of the Skimmer, out of Gloucester. Cline's students analyzed Randazzo's catch data and made maps showing how permanent and periodic fishing closures, shipping lanes and marine sanctuaries play a role in keeping the Gulf of Maine a sustainable resource. Students are also learning about groundfish biology by raising fish in a 100-gallon recirculating system built by Moran and Goudey. Additionally, the class visited the National Marine Fisheries Services office to better understand the regulations that govern New England fisheries.

Third-graders in Jeannine Brady's class at Canaan (Vt.) Elementary were able to pose questions on videotape to their Maine fisherman, Mattie Thompson. In turn, Thompson was videotaped aboard the Striker in Monhegan Bay showing the students the difference between male and female lobsters and just how lobster gear works.

Chris Andrews, captain of the November Rain out of Portland, Maine, partnered with Margaret Morton's seventh- and eighth-graders at South Bristol (Maine) Elementary School. "I like working with kids and it's good to give something back," he said.

Like others, Andrews noted that the partnerships are an opportunity to give the public a better representation of fishermen. "Fishermen get a bad rap from the press, but we're the most environmentally conscious people because we have to make a living from the environment," he said.

Part of what makes the program work so well, Goudey said, may be the fact that teachers and fishermen have much in common. He pointed out that both professions draw highly committed individuals who often could not conceive of other professions.

"Teaching and fishing both involve oft-repeated tasks, and the outcome is never predictable," he said. And both teachers and fishermen have found that their work environments have grown remarkably more complex with increased regulations.

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