On his way out the door, former director of the Department of Marine Resources Norman Olsen warned the media that a report based on an assessment of his agency by outside consultants would be out soon, and the department should not be allowed to sweep it under a rug.

The report was completed, and to its credit, the new administration at DMR made it public on Sept. 9.

Now, however, comes the real test. What are they going to do about its findings?

The report, conducted by three out-of-state experts in fishery management, science and business operations, raises some serious concerns about the state of Maine’s marine resource, and proposes overhauling the department do its job better.

The study’s authors were critical of the department’s structure and effectiveness. They expressed skepticism about whether recent record lobster harvests could be sustained and said that the department was not adequately financed.

Problems within the department are a cause of concern for the entire state, not just industries that are regulated by it. Maine’s 2010 commercial fishing harvest was valued at $452 million, but has a much bigger impact as that money moves through the economy. Sustaining the industry is a bulwark of Maine’s economic well-being.

CUT NOW TO GROW LATER

To do that, the authors found, Maine may have to reduce the size of its harvest to protect it. It also should reduce its overreliance on lobsters, now about 70 percent of the value of the state’s seafood harvest, which would put a number of fishing communities in jeopardy if there were even a small decline from what have been record harvests.

During his short term in office, Olsen made waves by saying that there had to be major changes in the way the state regulates its fisheries. He left office claiming that he was unable to do his job because powerful people within the industry had the ear of staff within the agency and Gov. LePage, and were able to get around Olsen, undermining his effectiveness. The biggest culprits he said, were representatives of lobstermen who opposed the legal landing of incidentally netted lobsters.

In releasing the report, LePage praised the department’s staff, but also acknowledged that the report calls for change.

“Staff is dedicated and professional, but it is time to refocus and rethink the direction of the department,” LePage said.

MEAT ON THE BONES

Now it’s up to the administration and the Legislature to put some meat on the policy bones that were identified by the study. The report is not a plan for action but a call for action, and one that should be heeded.

It is still unclear whether Olsen’s complaint about the governor’s office being too cozy with the industry has any merit. Even days after it was issued, people who would be expected to take exception to some of its findings were unusually quiet.

For instance, three days after the report was posted on the state’s website, the executive director of the Maine Lobsterman’s Associationsaid she hadn’t yet read it because she hadn’t received a copy. If this is an indication that industry insiders feel that they can accomplish more in private with the governor and department officials than they can debating the issues publicly, that would be a serious problem for the state.

So far, LePage has handled the report correctly by making it public and endorsing its call to reform the department, even if he hasn’t endorsed all of the specific recommendations.

How the administration and Legislature move through that process will have a big impact on whether Maine will do what it takes now to continue to have a lucrative commercial fishing industry in the future.