Editorial: Municipalities need to invest in their working waterfronts

Last month, Maine’s Department of Marine Resources released its annual landings data showing once again that fishing is big business here in Maine. 

$516,796,611 to be exact.  

But this number—amounting to the price paid to fishermen for their catch, also known as “boat price” —is just the beginning of the story.  

Each fisherman in Maine represents a small business that collectively employs a direct workforce of roughly 14,000 people and whose economic impact industry-wide is believed to be about $1.2 billion annually. In places such as Stonington, where more than $50 million in product is moved from sea to shore, fishing is front and center and supports an entire way of life for many. In other places, like Bar Harbor where $5 million was harvested in 2020, its footprint is smaller, but the collective impact of its catch rivals many other industries in town. 

Meanwhile, access to fishing grounds and traditional harvesting areas are being threatened by a variety of factorsclimate change, invasive species, changes to oceanfront property ownership annow windpower development and large-scale industrial aquaculture.  

While there isn’t much a municipality can do about larger pressures such as fishing regulation (since most is enacted through federal law), there is something that can be done to protect the grounds where harvesters dig clams or where lobster fishermen land their daily catch. Seeking out and protecting areas critical to the preservation of a working waterfront are crucial to preserving this way of life. 

Slowly, over the last 60 years, Maine’s coastline has changed. Waterfront properties—complete with bait shacks and boat landings—have been bought up by people willing to pay top dollar for a second home. As this has happened, property values have soared, which caused taxes to rise faster than the tide. Over timethe locals have had to move inland and the waterfront parcels have continued to be sold to the highest bidder.  

Municipalities with a vibrant working waterfront community need to consider additional investment targeted at this group. Often there are buckets of money set aside for this purpose. Be on the lookout for state and federal grants that target necessary infrastructure such as a commercial fish piers and hoist equipment or that fund general harbor improvements.  

Maine’s waterfront is beautiful, no doubt, but it is also rich in resources and is essential to its people. It is time to also consider the strategic purchase of waterfront land that could serve as access now and into the future. 

Maine’s fishermen will thank you, but more importantly, the communities upon which the industry is built will continue to thrive.  

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