Any way you measure, whether raw economic data, heritage and history or community, Maine’s working waterfront and our ability to earn a living on the water is integral to who we are, and who we should be. Maine’s ability to continue that economic growth, which includes out-of-state investors in aquaculture farms as well as small mom-and-pop operations and our independent owner-operated lobster fishermen, is at risk as access to the shore disappears at an increasing rate.

From p. 5 of The Critical Nature of Maine’s Working Waterfronts and Access to the Shore,
by Merritt T. Carey and published by Island Institute, August 2021.

Merritt Carey’s report on the accelerating threats to Maine’s working waterfronts and shore access is required reading for anyone thinking about the future of Maine and its coast. Most people working on this problem know the key pieces of the puzzle: rapidly rising real estate prices that make it difficult for locals to live near the coast, new residents with no relationship to fishing or clamming who do not understand the importance of access, an already short supply of shore facilities and infrastructure, and procedural and financial barriers to shoreside operations that would like to expand. What is valuable about Carey’s report is that she puts the puzzle together so that you can what’s missing.

One big missing piece is an overall strategy that prioritizes essential working waterfronts and access. Another is the funding and institutional support required to acquire waterfront property as waterfront real estate prices are exploding. As Merritt writes (p. 9),

Protecting Maine’s working waterfront falls to individual wharf owners and a handful of entities that are not set up or funded for the role they often find themselves in. … Without institutional support, high-level policy and programmatic coordination and sufficient funding to protect access, the future of Maine’s working waterfront is dire.

For those in Gouldsboro working to ensure the town’s continued vitality as a fishing community, Merrit’s observations about the role that municipalities play in protecting working waterfronts and shore access are sobering but also encouraging (pp. 9-10):

Though municipalities are not a “program” designed to protect working waterfront, on a policy level, protection of working waterfront is primarily left to municipalities. Harbormasters and marine patrol are on the “front lines” of working waterfront and access issues; and the make-up of town councils often has a great deal to do with whether a coastal community prioritizes its working waterfront and access. …

In short, the role of municipalities is critical, though insufficient, and currently is the primary factor in whether a coastal community retains a working waterfront. …

While the role of protecting Maine’s working waterfront should not be left to individual municipalities, the towns that have and continue to make working waterfront and access a priority distill a critical fact: if the will exists at the municipal level, working waterfront access protection is feasible and will occur

Below is an embedded link to the full report (it is only 24 pages) on the Island Institute’s website. Read it here or download and print it. (If you are reading this on a tablet, the “embedded” part might not work. In that case, just go directly to the report on the Island Institute site.)

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