AUGUSTA – After a departing Cabinet member said the governor didn’t support reviving groundfishing in Portland, the city’s mayor and Gov. Paul LePage met Thursday and smoothed the political waters. But they came up short on how to lure groundfishing boats back to Maine.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get something more concrete coming out of the meeting,” Mayor Nicholas Mavodones said after the 40-minute meeting. However, he said LePage assured him there was no ill will toward the city.
“I’m confident, based on what the governor said, that he is going to work with the city of Portland on issues that are important to the city and to the state,” Mavodones said.
LePage was not available for comment after the meeting. But before it started, he blasted the assembled reporters over news coverage of a statement issued by Norman Olsen, outgoing commissioner of the state Department of Marine Resources. Olsen, who resigned abruptly last week, claimed LePage told him not to collaborate with the city of Portland on developing measures to return groundfishing boats to Maine.
“Portland was against him, he said, and we will not work with that city,” Olsen’s statement said of the governor. “Rather than work with Portland, he said, we’ll build a new port somewhere.”
Through spokesmen and in several in-person interviews, LePage denied Olsen’s remarks. On Thursday, he accused reporters of not seeking his side of the story.
“The press, you folks, ran out and wrote all these articles and you never once called us and checked,” LePage said. “Now, I never said that I wouldn’t work with the city of Portland.”
MaineToday Media reporters tried repeatedly to get comment from LePage or a member of his administration when Olsen resigned but were told by a spokesman that no one was available. Requests for an interview the next day with LePage at a public event in Dover-Foxcroft were denied. Other Maine news outlets on Thursday also reported seeking comment.
Statements on behalf of the LePage administration — including characterizing the Olsen allegations as “absurd” — were made by Adam Fisher, a spokesman for LePage, and included in news stories.
“How would Adam Fisher know? He was never in my office with the meeting — how would he know?” LePage said to reporters. “Those who write print have been totally dishonest, totally unwilling to do your jobs and you spend too much time on the blogs.”
After learning about media reports of what Olsen claimed LePage said about Portland, Mavodones requested a meeting with the governor.
On Thursday, Mavodones said Portland and the state missed out on about $39 million in revenues last year because Maine-based boats landed their catches in Massachusetts to take advantage of lower fuel prices, their ability to cash in on drag-caught lobsters and other perks.
Olsen had been criticized by members of the lobster industry for supporting the policy of allowing groundfishermen to land and sell some drag-caught lobsters in Maine.
That by-catch issue is still on the table, along with other issues, said acting DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher, who also attended Thursday’s meeting.
“We’re going to develop a key list that deals with policy, that deals with science, that deals with infrastructure issues with the fish exchange within the city. And the big one is obviously drag-caught lobster,” he said.
Mavodones said he was pleased to have been able to meet with the governor on such short notice but was disappointed not to be walking away with a more concrete policy commitment.
Mavodones said the administration committed to crafting legislation for next session aimed at helping groundfishermen. The Legislature recently passed a fuel tax exemption for commercial vessels that will take effect in October and help the industry, he said.
MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: