By Ron Phillips, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
In 2010 and 2012, Maine voters approved $14.25 million in bonds to support multiple conservation priorities, including the privilege of fishing communities to pass on critical working waterfront access sites to the next generation of commercial fishermen.
We encourage Gov. Paul LePage, who supports many of Maine’s vital natural resource and economic development programs, to authorize the sale of voter-approved bonds to fund projects already approved by the Land for Maine’s Future Program to move working waterfront preservation forward.
Maine’s iconic working waterfronts are engines of the coastal economy. Wharves, docks and ramps are places where fish and shellfish such as lobsters, scallops, clams, and mussels are landed, and also where fishermen access and service their vessels. As new segments of the industry evolve to meet 21st-century market demands, working waterfronts provide a platform for growth and diversification of the coastal economy. They are critical to the health and sustainability of the fishing industry and provide links to future economic opportunities, for both Maine residents and visitors.
According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, 2014 ex-vessel (recorded dockside) landings for all fisheries in the state were 305.5 million pounds valued at over $585 million. If the commonly adopted multiplier of 2.5 times the ex-vessel value is applied, the fisheries pump over $1.4 billion into Maine’s economy annually.
Like LePage, Coastal Enterprises Inc. believes strongly in the importance of Maine’s traditional natural resource industries. Since 1979 Coastal Enterprises Inc. has mobilized nearly $70 million for the Maine fisheries sector in 237 separate loans and investments. These have created 1,837 new full-time jobs and 265 part-time jobs. It is through our services, partnerships and program goals that we seek to assist and stabilize Maine’s fishing and marine economy coast-wide.
Coastal Enterprises Inc.’s first investment in 1979 helped rebuild the Boothbay Region Fish and Cold Storage Plant after it burned to the ground. As the only refrigerated storage facility in the harbor, the plant was vitally important to the livelihoods of the local fishermen. The “freezer” was a flagship project for Coastal Enterprises Inc. for many reasons. Saving the facility was a community initiative, an effort to preserve the town’s working waterfront and fishing heritage in the face of deepening development pressure from tourism-related business. Development pressures have not diminished.
In 2002 and 2003, Coastal Enterprises Inc. conducted two studies investigating commercial fishing access in 25 of Maine’s coastal communities that had a fishing fleet. The studies indicated that waterfront access was a problem for commercial fishermen and that there is strong community commitment to protect access. In addition, three quarters of the access to and from the water was privately held in an environment of appreciating real estate values, making that land vulnerable to sale for non-fishing development. A 2005 study by the Island Institute, “The Last Twenty Miles,” quantified the working waterfront access points along the coast, demonstrating their vulnerability to coastal development for residential and recreational purposes.
As a result of that research and the work of a diverse Working Waterfront Coalition, the Maine Legislature created the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program, housed within the Land for Maine’s Future program and supported by voter-approved bond funds. The program protects strategically significant properties whose continued availability to commercial fisheries businesses is essential to the long-term future of the industry. It supports existing fishing businesses that can permanently provide working access for fishermen, including cooperatives and fishing-related businesses such as commercial wharfs and buying stations. The program is also available to municipalities and nonprofits like land trusts working to protect and secure fishing access sites and commercial boat landings.
Together with two state partners, the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Land for Maine’s Future Program, Coastal Enterprises Inc. Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture staff coordinate the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program. Since 2006 the program has protected 24 significant waterfront properties from York to Eastport. A cumulative total of $5.018 million in awards have had the following impacts:
— Combined fair market value of $20.6 million
— Preserving 42 upland acres and 7,200 linear feet of shoreline
— Annual landings exceeding $48 million
— Supporting 670 fishing vessels, 1100 fishermen, 1200 fishing families
Affordable and stable access to the water is essential to Maine’s fishing industry. Fisheries and fisheries-related businesses face numerous challenges as they seek to make their livelihoods from natural resources that are subject to many forces beyond their control, such as the climate change effects of warming and acidification of the Gulf of Maine, extreme weather, and human induced nutrient loading of inshore environments. Secure waterfront access is something we have the ability to control and the Land for Maine’s Future Program and the Working Waterfront Access Protection Program are critical tools.
Ron Phillips is president and CEO of Coastal Enterprises Inc.