This year’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum, held March 4 to March 6 in Rockport, may be better remembered for a potentially expensive prank rather than for the collaborative efforts of fishermen and others to sustain a way of life that has typified our region since long before Europeans settled on the Gulf of Maine shoreline.

A consensus of the annual forum posits that more happens in the hallways than in the conference rooms. When the call came over VHF Channel 16 that a boat was sinking and a fisherman was in the water between North Haven and Isle au Haut, Coast Guard crews weren’t the only ones scrambling.

In the conference rooms and corridors of the Samoset Resort, fishermen and their advocates from the private, public and nonprofit sectors all listened. At first they focused on the effort to identify what they believed was a man at risk of losing his life and livelihood. Later they tried to understand the motivation of an action that cost more than $170,000, put rescue workers in real danger, and diverted resources that should be available for genuine emergencies.

Forum participants sat in a conference room trying to absorb statistics showing that those who choose a fishing career are generally more likely to take chances during their off-duty hours than others in Maine. They also discussed ways to improve compliance on regulations designed to keep these risk-takers alive when they’re on the water. Meanwhile, someone else may well have been squandering the resources that are needed to protect those in one of America’s most dangerous professions.

And as many at the forum celebrated a growth in collaboration and creative problem solving, someone else may have been providing distraction and inventing challenges not needed in an already difficult business.

Not all of the industry’s hazards are due to the unpredictability of spawning cycles and variations in climate. Building coalitions in the halls of government among those who traditionally choose to go it alone on the water, or coming to agreement on where and how to target marketing and distribution efforts in a competitive sales environment, may not offer the excitement of a mayday call.

If Maine’s fishermen are to survive, on and off the water, hoaxes such as the one thought to have been perpetrated March 6 must be stopped. It would be unfortunate if the constructive work done at the forum were overshadowed by the recklessness of a bored or malicious prankster.

While the origination point of this most recent prank call has not been determined, a spokesman with the U.S. Coast Guard said March 8 that the command center’s new equipment can usually find the source of such signals. Anyone with information regarding this search and rescue case is encouraged to call the Coast Guard at 741-5465.