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  • Writer's pictureMonique Coombs

How to Inventory the Working Waterfront

The working waterfront along Maine’s coast is iconic. Lobster boats casting colorful reflections on the water, skiffs tied to floats, historically significant wharves, buoys, and trap piles. These scenes are an emblematic reminder of the important role seafood and fishing plays in the culture and economy of Maine. Working waterfront is a finite resource that must be maintained, invested in, and protected. Unfortunately, little information is regularly collected by municipalities to track changes, threats, and opportunities in and around the working waterfront. To address this, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA) 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 systematically begin to understand public and private infrastructure and their local marine economy. Compiling this baseline information will also 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 members of the community, including town committee volunteers or town staff such as a harbormaster or planner.

Photo by Scott Gable

Paul Plummer, Harpswell Harbormaster, 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 waterfronts are both state-wide and regionally important, much of this crucial infrastructure is managed at a municipal level. Coastal gentrification in Maine has intensified in the last few years due to COVID migration and an influx of new residents to Maine's coastal communities. This is increasing development and the transition of property ownership, as well as 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 the working waterfront. Unfortunately there are very few tools available to assist them in their endeavors. The Template will help communities identify the needs of the working waterfront and access resources to help them incorporate the working waterfront into their comprehensive plans, zoning and harbor ordinances, capital improvement plans, grant proposals, or climate resiliency planning process.

The working waterfront is integral to the success of businesses that depend on access to the water, and protecting it now is more important than ever for the commercial fishing industry that is already burdened by increasing regulations and climate change. Regarding the implications on the loss of infrastructure, Hugh Bowen, a lobsterman from Freeport 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, visit



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