Maine’s working waterfront is iconic. Lobster boats casting colorful reflections on the water, skiffs tied to floats, historically significant wharves, buoys and trap piles — these scenes are reminders of the important roles that seafood and fishing play in the culture and economy of Maine. Working waterfront is a finite resource that must be maintained and protected. However, little information is collected by municipalities to track changes, threats and opportunities on and around the working waterfront. To address this information gap, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and Tidal Bay Consulting worked together to produce a Working Waterfront Inventory Template.
The Working Waterfront Inventory Template is an accessible and adaptable toolkit that provides a process for municipalities to gather data about public and private infrastructure and their marine economy. Compiling this baseline information will help towns monitor change over time and fund projects that can preserve necessary infrastructure while considering development and vulnerability to sea level rise. It is designed to be completed by community members, including members of town committees and town staff, such as a harbor master or planner.
Harpswell Harbor Master Paul Plummer says, “Understanding what we have on the waterfront in a town like Harpswell is incredibly important. The Working Waterfront Inventory Template is a great opportunity for municipalities to work together with the fishing industry to identify ways to protect and preserve the waterfront, identify potential future access points, and access state or federal funding that can support necessary projects to ensure a thriving waterfront in the future.”
While working waterfront is important to the state and the region, much of this crucial infrastructure is managed at a municipal level. Coastal gentrification in Maine has intensified in the last few years with pandemic migration and an influx of new residents to Maine’s coastal communities. These factors are resulting in more development and more changes in property ownership, and are creating new demands on municipal services, which are limited in their capacity to quickly adapt.
Many coastal communities have already started exploring ways to document and protect their working waterfront, but there are few tools available to assist them. The template will help communities identify the needs of the working waterfront and incorporate the working waterfront into their comprehensive plans, zoning and harbor ordinances, capital improvement plans, grant proposals, or climate resiliency planning processes.
The working waterfront is integral to the success of businesses that depend on access to the water, and protecting it is more important than ever for a commercial fishing industry burdened by regulatory challenges and climate change. Freeport lobsterman Hugh Bowen says, “Without historical working waterfront infrastructure or the potential for new infrastructure, what is a very difficult job, physically and financially, becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible.”
The Working Waterfront Inventory Template is an important tool to help protect Maine’s iconic coast and the businesses, culture and communities that depend on it. To learn more, go to mainecoastfishermen.org/working-waterfront-inventory.