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  • Writer's pictureBen Martens

Harpswell Needs Assessment

Inside the gaps and strengths of Harpswell’s vibrant fishing community

For the past year, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association has been getting an in-depth look into various facets of Harpswell’s beloved fishing community through an interview-based assessment focused on identifying the true concerns, hopes, and needs as determined by those within the Harpswell fishing community. The Fishermen’s Association wants to know it all; every issue, thought, strength, frustration, and idea people have that can be developed into a resource to keep Harpswell’s fishing community strong. The fishing community members have solutions and unique perspectives of a problem and it’s time to stop and take notice; the fishing industry should be a priority in Harpswell.

As an industry-based nonprofit which works to identify and foster ways to restore the fisheries of the Gulf of Maine and sustain Maine’s historic fishing communities for future generations, the Fishermen’s Association developed the needs assessment from the ideas of its members. It came after hearing countlessly from members within Maine’s coastal towns about the need for community-based projects and programs that empower and support the industry instead of the more common service program provided by towns and local organizations that tend to be solution driven.

The Fishermen’s Association has taken the time to listen to stories, opinions, and histories that not many organizations or municipalities have taken the time to hear. The Fishermen’s Association works to create projects based on what is needed by the communities they work for and this will help the town by clearly defining what the members of the community view as a problem and possibly even the solution. Interviews have spanned from the more well-known lobster and groundfish industries to under the radar shellfish harvesters and wharf owners. No matter the industry, one common theme resounds: Harpswell’s fishing community needs attention and support in the present to ensure its perseverance into the future.

“Fishing is in the blood of [Harpswell’s] community. You see it down every road, but it’s not the same as it was.” This comes from an interview with a seasoned groundfish and lobster fishermen who has seen the tides turn within his community.

Many conversations throughout the assessment highlight the changes Harpswell has gone through in the past decades. Some are out of the community’s control, like decline in stocks and adapting management plans, others like a waning in access and desire for local fisheries education are areas for town and regional intervention.

“People need to know we’re here. They see us out there digging, but they don’t understand how important what we’re doing is,” stated a very tired clam harvester interviewed after a long morning on the flats. Just like the state, Harpswell prospers on fishing and tourism – two economies not as mutually exclusive as one may initially believe, but what would one look like without the other? For most interviewed, that isn’t something they want to picture, but they do want people to know more.

Whether it’s the next generation - “We sure as hell aren’t getting younger” - or newcomers to the community, many desire systems to educate those working and living just beyond the fishing community because familial connections to fishing are not what they once were and the impacts are apparent. Fewer fishermen coming into the business, less fishermen and harvester participation in local government, and not enough neighborly knowledge of what it takes to keep the boat running and the lights on for a fishing family.

Funding for this project comes from Holbrook Community Foundation (HCF). “The mission of the Holbrook Community Foundation is to provide for the long-term protection of the coastal heritage of Harpswell by preserving Holbrook’s working waterfront and by supporting education and knowledge about our marine environment for the benefit of the local community,” says Greg Barmore, HCF Board President. “We, at HCF, are pleased to support this needs assessment project, and we anticipate that it will facilitate MCFA’s and HCF’s future efforts to develop programs to benefit commercial fishing in Harpswell.”

Developing programs based on community input and real, current need is exactly what the assessment will do. Within the first phase, the Fishermen’s Association identified some of the current struggles and knowledge gaps among shellfish harvesters. Monique Coombs, Director of Marine Programs at MCFA, took note of this and began researching and dispersing information around the milky ribbon worm, a native predator of Harpswell’s soft shell clam beds.

More projects and programs like this are the goal of the needs assessment. This project will create open source data that will be available to fishermen, the town, and other organizations with the ability to provide much needed resources as identified by the community.

The work isn’t done yet. MCFA is constantly looking to connect with anyone working within the fishing community in Harpswell. If you would like to speak with Kendra Jo about this project or would like to suggest a person who should be interviewed for this project, please contact Kendra Jo Grindle at (207) 619-1129 or

Please plan to join the Fishermen’s Association as they present their findings in a final report to the community and local organizations in mid-January.

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