Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association is presenting the findings of a long-term project to assess the needs of the fishing community in Harpswell.

Titled “Beyond the Bow: A fisheries needs assessment of Harpswell,” the presentation, to be held at 6:30 p.m. March 15, is based on hundreds of hours of interviews of people associated with the fishing industry in the town.

“It’s the first time that our organization has done anything like this,” said Ben Martens, director of the MCFA.

Over a year in the making, the assessment targeted the community as directly as possible by going right to the fishermen and learning about their needs and opinions on the state of the industry. Harpswell has long been tied to the fishing industry, with many families drawing their livelihood from the ocean for generations.

“We decided to take more of a community approach to our work, and try to hear from our members, as well as everyone else in the community as to what we should be doing,” said Kendra Jo Grindle, who coordinated the project.

Often, she said, regulatory agencies don’t always get a full glimpse into what the needs and wants of fishermen really are, and often seek solutions without knowing the full scope of problems.

Throughout the interview process, six key themes were developed by MCFA: Access on and off the water; communication between fishermen and the community; a lifelong workforce; what the next generation of fishermen will look like; business development and investment; and community fishery knowledge.

Community knowledge, said Grindle, refers to newcomers to the community not fully understanding what it’s like to live in an area that has historically been known for its fishing industry.

“My family has always been fishing and it’s always been the heart of (Harpswell’s) community. It doesn’t really feel like that anymore. People have other job options and when new people move here, they don’t have the connections or family history with fishing,” said a fourth-generation fisherman, relating to changes he’s seen during his 57 years in Harpswell.

That lack of knowledge can lead to conflicts down the road as the traditional uses of property clash with the new neighbors.

“When you move into a fishing community, there are sights and sounds that come along with that,” said Grindle.

It wasn’t just the folks who head out to sea each day that were interviewed. Dockworkers, town officials, people relying on the supply of products, and others were all involved in the assessment. In total, over 200 hours of interviews with roughly 80 individuals were compiled.

Many of those interviewed are an integral part of the industry, even if they’re not on a boat. Fishermen have to have a working waterfront to sell their catch, suppliers for things like ice and fuel, and more. “There was also that side of it, are there things missing from the community of Harpswell?” said Grindle.

All of the information and data gained from the interviews and research are being put together in the presentation, and also compiled into a resource for the future. The last time a profile was done on the area was in 1999, and that just included basic industry numbers without the extensive community engagement of MCFA’s assessment.

The overarching goal is to start conversations within the community, bridge communication gaps that may exist, and ensure the future of fishing in Harpswell.

“Our hope is that this will start conversations, so that Harpswell can keep being the resilient fishing community it is,” said Grindle.

“Beyond the Bow: A fisheries needs assessment of Harpswell” was funded, in part, by the Holbrook Community Foundation.

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