The inside of Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association’s new Pleasant Street location. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

After years of steady growth, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association will be unveiling its new Pleasant Street facility in Brunswick to the public on Aug. 12.

Founded in 2006 by a small group of fishermen in Port Clyde, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association is a nonprofit organization that looks to involve local Maine fishermen with legal and environmental aspects of the fishing industry through policy and advocacy.

According to Executive Director Ben Martens, over the last year or so, Maine Coast Fisherman Association has developed two new programs that have expanded parts of the organization’s mission: Fishermen Feeding Mainers and the Fishermen Wellness Program.

Fishermen Feeding Mainers, which first started in September, finances local fishermen, whose catches are cut and packaged through Maine businesses and distributed to hungry Mainers statewide. The program has donated over 200,000 seafood meals to Mainers.

There are 166,910 people experiencing hunger in Maine, according to Feeding America, a national hunger-relief organization. Of them, 44,520 are children. This translates to one in eight people and one in six children in the state that are facing hunger.

According to Martens, the Fishermen Wellness Program focuses on helping fishermen’s health, both physically, through stretching and exercise, and mentally, such as through offering counseling services.

“There are a lot of issues that pop up with uncertainty, with regulations and climate change and every year looks different, and that instability can create anxiety, it can create depression,” Martens said, noting that the program is still in the early stages.

Additionally, according to the Center for Disease Control, commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States, and, as pointed out by Maine Coast Fishermen Association’s website, one in five Mainers seek treatment for anxiety or depression every year.

Both programs were also launched during or around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to help solve problems,” Martens said. “It was a time of so much uncertainty and fear that I think for, and for me in particular, having these projects and programs we could sink our teeth into, see results, feel like we were doing good at a time when it was so hard to do anything.”

Executive Director Ben Martens walking past Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association’s new Pleasant Street location. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Prior to the Pleasant Street location, which Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association moved into in 2020, the organization worked out of the Fort Andross Mill.

“The mill was a great home for us, but we were kind of growing out of that space as we were adding staff,” Martens said. “Really one of the major drivers was we were at the point where we wanted to have a footprint and being able to have a home where people can see our sign and see our logo and recognize us as part of the community was really also one of the factors.”

Martens said he was hired by the original Port Clyde fishermen in 2011, and since then the organization has grown to five employees.

The new building, which was recently painted and renovated, gives the organization much-needed conference space, according to Director of Operations Susan Olcott, which will allow for fishermen, legislators and other community partners to gather.

“More than anything really it was the ability to have gathering space,” Olcott said.

The ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 12, Olcott said, will be the first public welcoming to the facility since employees have begun work there and renovations have been completed.

“If there are people who are interested in our programs who want to just come in and talk to us about what we’re working on we are open to having people come in,” Olcott said.

Looking forward, Martens said, the organization wants to promote a diversity of what fishermen are catching in Maine and look at how to make seafood more appealing to new markets, people and cultures within the state.

“One of our major goals of the next five years is how do we provide opportunity for fishermen to diversify to those other fisheries,” Martens said. “We’re exploring some research around multi-cultural and ethnic groups in and around Maine and we get seafood into those communities in a meaningful way, or at least explore that.”


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