by Lisa F. Shields, Director, Schools & Community Services & Annette Naegel, Director, Science & Stewardship

The Island Institute is a non-profit, membership-based organisation founded in 1983 to serve the islands of Maine. Our mission statement reads:

The Island Institute serves as a voice for the balanced future of Maine islands. We are guided by an island ethic which recognises that the resources of the Maine Islands and the waters of the Gulf of Maine are fragile and finite.

Along the Maine coast, the Island Institute plays a pivotal role in the dialogue about wise use of resources by positioning itself at the boundaries between competing interests; by developing solutions that balance the needs of the coast’s cultural and natural communities; by supporting the islands’ year-round communities; by conserving Maine’s undeveloped islands in their natural state, and by monitoring and helping to protect the Gulf of Maine’s natural systems, on which we all depend.

We carry out this mission through publications, education, community services, marine resources, and science and stewardship programs.

Schools and Community Services Department

At the turn of the century there were approximately 300 year-round island communities along the coast of Maine; today, there are fourteen. With this 95% attrition rate in mind, the Island Institute’s Schools and Community Services Department mission is to support the economic survival and cultural vitality of Maine’s year-round and seasonal communities by encouraging their educational and cultural institutions, by supporting their physical infrastructure, and by celebrating the genuine strengths of island community life. As “background” encouragement, we foster inter-island communication through a variety of efforts. We convene topic-specific conferences throughout the year and an annual Islanders’ Conference, as well as an annual Schools Conference, both of which address a variety of issues identified by islanders. Our recent Tenth Schools Conference featured island teachers exchanging information with other island teachers about specific programs and theories of education which seem particularly well-suited to island teaching. Last year’s Islanders’ Conference focused on taxes, communications, transportation, medical issues and marketing of crafts, to name a few of the topics. We attempt to concentrate on islanders talking with islanders, not necessarily just outside “experts” talking to islanders.

We facilitate inter-island communication through our own publications and through the use of our year-round vessel, RAVEN, by transporting island citizens to inter-island events. This sometimes means transporting island students to another island for an inter-island dance; at other times it means transporting groups of students to visit another school or teachers to an inter-island conference. RAVEN transports legislators to island meetings, scientists and consultants to island municipalities or to unoccupied islands. Our Inter-Island News offers islanders the opportunity to find out what is current and of interest on other islands; what works on one island carries credibility, and perhaps applicability, on another island.

We ensure that legislators and policy makers are aware that islands and their communities need special consideration to survive. This often means testifying before municipal, state and occasionally federal legislators on issues that affect islands. From day to day the issues vary; often similar only in their diversity and complexity. At the time of writing (June 96), it was discovered that an underwater electrical cable from the mainland to an island electrical cooperative, which serves two islands with a combined population of 400 people, was damaged by a fishing boat. We have been in touch with legislators and authorities to alleviate the financial burden this will put on the cooperative, and to promote a piece of legislation that will further protect underwater cable areas.

We support island schools by communicating with them about relevant issues, such as special initiatives, policies, funding and curriculum. We arrange and provide information about scholarships available to those students from the eleven (of fourteen) year-round islands which do not have high schools. After having received their first five to eight years of schooling in a small, caring community school, these students are sometimes “lost” in the relative jumble of larger mainland high schools. The Island Institute Schools and Community Services Department has initiated talks with a number of Maine’s private schools to provide incentive scholarships for island students. We have now directly enabled two full scholarships at one independent school, and the assurance of full packages to meet identified financial needs at two others. Yet another of Maine’s independent boarding schools has offered a $6000-8000 scholarship specifically for island students.

An Island Institute scholarship fund, supported directly by Institute membership contributions and through private grants, is available to all year-round islanders pursuing a secondary school education. This year, we awarded two scholarships to “non-traditional” students; two island homemakers who have decided to further their education through long-distance learning efforts. Twelve scholarships ranging from $250 to $1000 were also awarded to students just graduating from high school or already at university. Utilizing Island Institute membership contributions, proceeds from the scholarship endowment fund and special contributions, we project a 50% increase in total dollar amount to be awarded to next year’s students.

We work with a variety of organisations to guarantee island communities equal access to resources. As a result of a recent public utilities agreement with a private telecommunications provider, Maine has the ability to provide each public school and public library with an Internet connection. Because some island schools and libraries were not fully aware of this opportunity, we have been in touch with all island communities to ensure their ability to participate. We have been working jointly with Maine’s Public Utilities Commission to accomplish the goal of full participation.

Sustainable, resource-based, environmentally sensitive economic development is a necessity to the survival of virtually all of the islands. While we currently provide expertise on various types of economic development - on one island resulting in one million salmon, 40 jobs and $350,000 pumped into the local economy - we intend to explore different types of initiatives and further expand our resources in entrepreneurial-based economic development areas. We also provide technical assistance in long-range community planning, attempting to help an island community decide on how best to approach decision-making on such issues as regulating development, controlling tourism, and dealing with solid waste.

"Out of sight, out of mind" works both to the benefit and detriment of islands. Geographic isolation is an island’s defining characteristic; it is the essence of defining community. That same isolation allows island communities to figuratively as well as literally distance themselves from mainland..... and the mainland from the islands. Our mission is to provide a bridge that can be used when sought. Our effort is aimed at providing information and resources; islanders know best what is right for their own islands.

Science and Stewardship

The Science and Stewardship Department of the Island Institute conducts many projects that utilize geographical information system (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) technologies. Our entry to GIS/RS began with satellite imagery, using GAIA image display and analysis software we developed in 1987. The majority of our data are Landsat TM and SPOT Multispectral satellite images and derived classification products, which fully cover the Maine coast region with 10 images, ranging in data from 1988 to 1995. We recently obtained the GIS software ArcView 2.1, and have begun to acquire GIS coverages as they pertain to specific projects. For instance, we have 1:24,000 base coverages for the Penobscot Bay region. We also have the coastline coverage for Maine, and a growing database of natural resource coverages.

Some of our projects are rather small in scope, e.g. classification of land cover on a particular island - and some are quite large, e.g. development of a comprehensive GIS/RS database for all Maine islands larger that 5 acres in size. The following describes in greater detail two of our current projects.

Ducktrap Watershed GIS

The Ducktrap River in mid-coast Maine provides spawning and rearing habitat for one of the 7 river-specific populations of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar which have been proposed for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Of these populations, the Ducktrap salmon have the most unique genetic character, an indication that the gene pool of the population has been least impacted by artificially stocking of fish from other rivers. Also, the Ducktrap salmon have maintained a relatively stable population level, in comparison to the drastic declines experienced by most other river populations. Despite these important features, the Ducktrap River has not received the attention necessary to fully evaluate the watershed and determine management measures that will be most effective in preserving habitat conditions critical for salmon.

A coalition of partners conducted preliminary meetings in 1994 to determine how to proceed with conservation planning for the Ducktrap watershed, but had not developed any momentum. In late 1995, the Island Institute contacted the coalition and proposed that a GIS database be developed for the watershed to facilitate planning for salmon as well as other species and natural communities. We were selected to administer the project and develop the land cover classification from our archive of satellite imagery, working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The immediate objectives of the project are to create a database that will allow delineation of a management buffer of surface hydrologic features to protect conditions of water quality and quantity critical for Atlantic salmon, and to prioritize other areas of the watershed that require management to protect or improve environmental conditions. The project is also designed to serve a longer term set of objectives. We anticipate that it will facilitate comparison of the Ducktrap watershed to the other 6 salmon watersheds, enabling us to address this critical question: “Why is the Ducktrap River salmon population doing better that the other 6 populations?”. Finally, because each of the coalition members accomplish their mission with different operating methods, the database has been designed to include a broad range of information to be adapted to their conservation activities in the watershed. These activities include acquisition of conservation easements and land title, environmental restoration, municipal land use regulation, and environmental education. Through these efforts, the conservation of biological diversity will involve species other than Atlantic salmon and expand in scale to include natural communities and ecosystems.

Historic Inshore Fishing Grounds

Whether or when we can restore our marine fisheries populations is one of the many matters of interest to the Island Institute. Beyond the highly publicised arena of regulatory rule-making, we are preparing a baseline of applied biology that will assist efforts to restore cod and haddock in their former inshore habitats. Though empirical studies have not been fully resolved, ecological principles suggest that the removal of these two species from their inshore range has had significant effects on populations of other marine species. Essential for restoration is a supply of juvenile groundfish that can be released in near-coastal waters, and the knowledge of where to release them so they have the greatest opportunity to survive, grow, and reproduce.

To obtain a supply of juvenile groundfish for stocking requires a hatchery. Groundfish hatcheries are in the germinal stages of development at several locations in Maine. The Institute has assisted in the establishment of the Marine Hatchery Technology Association cod and haddock facility on Swans Island. In this hatchery, procedures are being tested for holding and spawning broodstock, incubating eggs, producing feed for the juveniles, and rearing the young through the fry, larval, fingerling, and smolt stages in preparation for release. When the hatchery is in production, 70 percent of the juvenile cod and haddock will be donated to the Marine Department of Marine Resources, which will stock the young in areas that formerly supported groundfish populations.

Since the value of each of these restoration offspring is measured in dollars, not cents, it is critical that they are stocked in places where they will prosper and multiply. Like all species, cod and haddock have particular preferences for habitat. The evolutionary pressures of natural selection have moulded these preferences to best fit the survival and reproductive potentials of each species. Our question is, “Where in the thousands of square miles of marine waters near the Maine coast are those habitats?”. The answer is coming through a project that combines traditional fishermen’s knowledge with GIS technology.

During the past year a marine researcher working with the Institute has interviewed dozens of older fishermen along the Maine coast, asking them to dredge their memories, check the marks on their old charts, and map out the inshore fishing grounds where they regularly caught cod and haddock. Once the spawning and feeding areas for the near coastal populations, these grounds were fished out decades ago. We think that many of the marine conditions that made these grounds the right habitat then - depth and temperature of water, nutrient supply and plankton life, bottom character - are relatively unchanged. Thus, these traditional fishing grounds likely have the best habitat for release of the hatchery young.

The historical fishing grounds delineated by the researcher and fishermen will be converted by the Institute to a GIS coverage. Since the supply of juvenile cod and haddock will not be sufficient to restock all of identified grounds, it will be necessary to develop a system to rank the areas. The objective of the GIS analysis will be determination of the areas that have environmental characteristics most suitable for rearing young cod and haddock. The coverages to add to the traditional fishing grounds will include bathymetry, bottom type, circulation of near shore waters, eelgrass and other marine vegetation beds, nutrient data, estuarine areas, and other features of the marine environment linked with spawning and rearing of young cod and haddock. Much of this data is already available from various sources as GIS coverages, and conversion of the remaining data is planned or under development. The project is scheduled for completion during 1997. The resulting information will be shared with state and Federal agencies concerned with conservation of marine fisheries.

Marine Resources

For nearly half a century, Maine fishermen have restricted their harvest of lobsters in an attempt to create a sustainable fishery. Briefly, the purpose of this strategy has been to create and protect a breeding population of large lobsters. This has been accomplished

  • a) by protecting all lobsters with a carapace smaller than 3 ¼ inches (approximately 8.25 mm) or larger than 5 inches (approximately 12.75 mm) by making them illegal to sell
  • b) by requiring that the tail of all egg-bearing females be notched
  • c) that all female lobsters with a properly notched tail are illegal to sell

By whatever accounting used, these measures have created a robust population that has had stable landings for decades and is the best-managed fishery within the Gulf of Maine. This has been achieved without limited entry, ITQ’s or quotas.

Since the collapse of groundfish stocks in the Gulf of Maine, draggers operating outside the 3-mile limit have been targeting Maine’s brood stock of large lobsters as they migrate offshore, landing them in other New England states where their sale is legal. The loss of lobster brood stock represents a great threat to the long-term health of Maine’s fishery.

The lobster dilemma accentuates the problems besetting Gulf of Maine fisheries and is an arena in which the Island Institute plays a constructive role. It has been active in the formation of a “bottom-up” management strategy for Maine’s lobster fishery that provides entrance controls, effort controls, and the control of technology. A related effort has involved the Island Institute with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) and individuals from the fishing industry in an attempt to develop an ethical framework for groundfishing and other fisheries. The Island Institute is also helping to shape this discussion for the clam fishery.

The Island Institute also has a voice on the National Research Council’s Committee on Marine Governance and Management where recommendations for more effective governance structures and procedures of our ocean commons are being prepared for the Congress.

We are also engaged in a research aquaculture station at Allen Island where the feasibility of growing a variety of shellfish species is being studied. The focus has been to develop profitable aquaculture projects of relatively small scale that are compatible with existing uses of inshore waters. This could provide opportunities for island and coastal fishermen in an industry that has tended to be dominated by corporate interests.


The Island Institute’s Publications Department produces considerable literature designed to further the Institute’s mission and utilise results and maps from their GIS/RS capability.

Inter-Island News, published every other month covers community news and serves as a forum for topics of common interest among Maine’s 14 year round island communities, many of which are served by different mainland newspapers.

Working Waterfront, also published every other month, serves people who depend on commercial waterfronts along the coast for their livelihoods, and covers topics such as fishing, aquaculture, land use, politics, government regulations and the environment - issues that affect the ability of people to earn a living on the coast.

Island Journal, published annually for the past 13 years, is the Island Institute’s flagship publication. Handsomely designed and illustrated, it focuses on natural resource issues, island history, economic trends and the arts, and how these matters reflect island values.

From Cape Cod to the Bay of Fundy: A Geographic Atlas of the Gulf of Maine was published in 1995 by MIT Press. The title of the Atlas offers a succinct description of the Institute’s geographic range; while it’s contents illustrate the use of satellite imagery to highlight a large variety of environmental matters, from seafloor mapping to seabird habitat to acid rain’s impact on vegetation.

Penobscot, a book scheduled for publication in July, considers a region of Maine - the Penobscot River, Penobscot Bay and the 39 communities surrounding them - from a historical, economic and natural-resource point of view. It is a “snapshot” of the region as it exists today, and is being published in hopes that future “snapshots” will reveal measurable trends.

The Island Institute is different things to different people: a source of inter-island transportation, a convener of meetings and conferences; a clearinghouse for information relating to environmental and economic issues in the Gulf of Maine; a publisher of newspapers, magazines, and books; an advocate for a balanced approach to the challenges facing Maine’s island communities and the waters that surround them. In most of its projects and programs, the Institute strives to develop models which can be used by other island archipelagos around the world.

Island Institute
410 Maine Street
Maine 04841
Tel: (207) 594-9209
Fax: (207) 594-9314