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  • Writer's pictureMonique Coombs

What is a discrete working waterfront?

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

Along the coast of Maine are numerous small working waterfronts, or discrete working waterfronts. These much smaller wharves or piers are often used by one or two fishermen, represent some of the oldest wharves in the community, typically do not offer berthing, may be home to small fish houses, and are usually used for gear maintenance and storage rather than access to the water. They are often quite old and would likely not meet the requirements of the Army Corps of Engineers if they needed any permitting in order to be replaced or repaired. Occasionally, the true owner of the property is unclear, or they are held in an arrangement (legal or a gentleman’s agreement) with fisherman and property owner or fisherman and municipality. In some cases, when the fisherman who uses the wharf passes, the fate of the wharf is uncertain; it can either fall into the water in disrepair or revert back to the owner of the property who may not be connected or associated with commercial fishing.

These discrete working waterfronts are extremely vulnerable to storm surges and sea-level rise because of their location, age, and level of decay. Losing these discrete working waterfronts to events pertaining to climate change, transfer of property ownership to non-commercial interests, or because there is no plan for their future, would literally alter the landscape of fishing communities. It would also put more pressure on some of the larger wharves as more fishermen need access to them for gear storage and maintenance.

There are no specific funding sources available that can benefit these discrete working waterfronts and those that might be applicable, such as those found at the Maine Coastal Program, are part of much larger opportunities and would need to be applied for with partners and/or the municipality and are not focused on specifically benefiting commercial fishing businesses.

Discrete working waterfront properties are extremely vulnerable. In one survey, Lowell’s Cove on Orr’s Island was specifically cited as a space with multiple discrete working waterfronts and of great concern. The survey was completed in March of 2019. In December of that year, one of the three small piers in Lowell’s Cove fell into the water in a storm. (Pictured at right.)

This is an excerpt from the State of Maine's Working Waterfront report completed in 2019. You can see the report in its entirety here.

You can support MCFA's efforts to sustain Maine's fishing communities for future generations here.

Together, we persevere.


After further consideration, the term "discrete working waterfront" has been updated to "discreet working waterfront". Discreet working waterfronts are both separate from and unobtrusive in their surroundings making both “discrete” and “discreet” applicable as descriptions, but it is the lack of attention paid to these wharves, that they are unassuming and inconspicuous, that makes discreet most appropriate.

You can read more about discreet working waterfronts in Shore & Beach Vol. 90, No. 2.



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