By Carla Charter
MAINE- To many, the mention of Maine brings to mind the thoughts of the ocean, lighthouses and fishermen on the docks bringing in the catch. However, these working docks are at risk of disappearing and with them an iconic symbol of the Maine coast.
The reason for the disappearance of these docks is varied. “Coastal property is more desirable there are pressures from developers who want to develop hotels and resorts, the cost of living, and gentrification, as well as sea level rise from global warming, according to Monique Coombs. Director of Marine Programs, Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association. “This is an issue in many coastal communities not just Maine,” she said. “It is a constant balancing act playing out every day,” said Bill Needelmen, Waterfront Coordinator for the city of Portland, Maine
When a working wharf disappears sometimes fishermen go to other wharfs. Sometimes they do not fish it’s not at that point. With working docks disappearing there is less work for fishermen. Less people catching fish means less access to fish. The fish then becomes more expensive or we become more reliant on imported fish,” Coombs said.
Portland, Maine is a city who is addressing the issue head on. “Right now, the fishing community feels like they are being squeezed. The city has taken a pause and placed a moratorium on non-marine development. During the moratorium we have created a waterfront working group to evaluate the current situation and propose potential remedies.”
He continued that currently, at Portland’s central waterfront there are 15 piers that are a mix of marine and non-marine use. Revenue from permits for mixed non- marine use supports the marine infrastructure. “We are evaluating zoning to ensure appropriate mix uses for the protection of our marine industry. We are seeking a solution to dredging contaminated sediment that will create more commercial birthing opportunities,” Needelmen said.
“In Maine if we lose working waterfronts, we lose a piece of culture and lose a way of life. It will affect tourism as well.” Coombs said. “No one questions the value and heritage of the fishermen as important features of the Portland community,” said Needleman.
Another concern is that in coastal communities, fishermen are being priced out of the housing market. “If a fisherman comes from a family fishing tradition it makes fishing access much easier. if fisherman have to move further inland it makes it harder to manage gear and to get to work, Coombs continued. Needelmen explained that Portland has been working on affordable housing issues for quite a long time, “which is a challenge during boom times” he said.
The Portland Waterfront Working Group meets the first and third Thursday of the month at 3 p.m. at Portland City Hall. All are welcome to attend.