BRUNSWICK — Maine’s working waterfront is going to look much different in 20 years than it does now. Familiar and iconic spots like Mackerel Cove in Harpswell may not have as many boats, maybe there won’t be as many traps and buoys peppering the coast, and perhaps the coffee shops will be vacant of fishermen sitting around sharing stories and talking about the weather. It’s disheartening to think about any coastal  community like Bailey Island or Port Clyde or Cutler with even just a slightly diminished amount of fishing appurtenances.

“Solastalgia” is a term that was coined in 2003 by Australian professor Glenn Albrecht, and I would describe it as “a sadness a person feels when their home environment is desolated in ways they cannot control.” It’s like being homesick in a familiar place because that place is no longer familiar.

For example, residents felt solastalgia in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed many homes and landmarks that gave the community its sense of place. Some fishermen may already feel a sense of solastalgia as fast-growing development progresses unchecked and an increase in summer residents and new buildings changes the character of a community. At some point in the future, if we continue this path, Maine will become a simulacrum of what it once was, and we will have diminished the motivation that drives many visitors to the Pine Tree State.

And while fishermen are feeling solastalgia, some groups and businesses are appropriating from the fishing industry to achieve their goals without any regard for the impact on or consequences to fishermen and their communities. Advertisements, travel companies, media outlets and hotels offer visitors views of fishermen and their boats but don’t recognize that their customers might not like the smell of bait, and that the higher costs and increased traffic could alter the economics of the area, thus making it more difficult for fishermen to work and fish at all. The content in these various outlets is often romanticized and not an actual depiction of what the realities are around a working waterfront: sounds from a bunch of small businesses that depend on diesel engines; smells from an industry that is contingent upon traps full of malodorous bait; buoys that are scattered across a wharf not because their colors are pretty but because they are necessary for work.

For the past decade, Maine’s fishing industry has drifted in and out of the news, and when it does appear in headlines, it is often accompanying stories filled with doom and gloom. But the fishing industry is not dead, and it is not dying.

While some consumers disregard the fishing industry, Maine fishermen have been working to rebuild fish stocks and sustain the resources that their lives depend on. While some developers have been making plans for luxury hotels and high-end resorts, fishermen have been stewards of the ocean and fighting for policy that conserves their way of life and the Gulf of Maine. While visitors flock to Maine to eat at trendy restaurants, Maine fishermen have been enduring bad weather and negative headlines to harvest healthy, sustainable Maine seafood.

Rather than planning for a future that has fewer buoys in the water and shrinking stacks of lobster traps, Maine should be aiming for a future that has a dynamic working waterfront that allows fishermen the opportunity to thrive. The working waterfront is more than a quaint picture or a marketing tool to attract more visitors to Maine – it is a composite of people, boats, gear and traditions that are inextricably linked to a place and to an industry that Maine depends on for more than just the views. When the working waterfront is gone, there is no replacing it, and that includes the sights, smells and seafood that it elicits, and the fishermen who depend on it.


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