BAR HARBOR — A new plan to reduce cruise ship visitation will go into effect for the 2023 season and beyond after the Town Council supported the motion during Tuesday’s meeting.
The plan reduces daily caps and imposes new monthly caps that will add additional days without ships. No cruise ships will be allowed in April and November, cutting the season from eight months to six.
Monthly caps will be 30,000 for May and June; 40,000 for July and August, and 65,000 for September and October. Daily caps for May, June, September and October will go from 5,500 to 3,800. July and August will still see the same daily cap of 3,500.
This proposal was presented by the Cruise Ship Working Group, which was created in February to find a solution with industry representatives. Growing frustrations from town residents about the yearly increase of the size and number of ships in Frenchman Bay prompted the negotiations.
The group includes Town Manager Kevin Sutherland, Town Council members Jill Goldthwait and Valerie Peacock, Harbormaster Chris Wharff and a representative of the Maine Office of Tourism, Sarah Flink, who also serves on the town’s Cruise Ship Committee.
“Any decision the council makes or doesn’t make has risk,” said Sutherland. “Negotiating directly with the cruise industry, we believe this is the least risky option to achieve reductions and take a step towards addressing balance for the community.”
Though Bar Harbor does not have unilateral authority to restrict commerce on or off shore, these new visitation limits were agreed upon by the cruise industry, which would not challenge the legality of it in court.
Sutherland said the harbormaster has discretion to allow ships slightly over the 3,800 limit, up to 4,000. However, allowing these slightly larger ships in the harbor will mean reaching the monthly cap faster, theoretically allowing for more days without ships.
“We’ve created a much greater level of control by creating these monthly caps,” said Sutherland.
Because of the monthly caps, May, June, September and October will see a 31 percent reduction in the daily lower berth capacity, which is an industry metric to account for the max number of passengers a ship can hold.
April and November will no longer see cruise ships primarily due to weather conditions that prevent staff from properly preparing for the visitors.
A competing proposal initiated by a citizens’ initiative to limit cruise ship disembarkation to 1,000 people per day will still be up for a vote by residents during the town meeting in November. For now, the working group’s plan will stay in effect.
“At least we will realize some reduction. It may not be the reduction some people want but it’s a beginning,” said council member Matt Hochman. “It’s something the industry has agreed to, so I think by moving forward with this, it protects us in a lot of different ways.”