The 590-foot long MS Regatta cruise ship made a port call in Rockland Harbor in this 2013 file photo. Credit: Stephen Betts / BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine ― Rockland may begin actively reaching out to large cruise lines and encouraging them to visit the city in order to generate more yearly revenue through passenger fees.

The idea was raised by Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser Wednesday night at a workshop centered around finding additional revenue streams. The harbormaster and city manager will ultimately need to determine if the city pursues this approach. But Glaser said reaching out directly to the cruise lines will give the city greater control over the types of vessels that anchor in the harbor as well as generate upwards of $100,000 a year in passenger fees.

With Bar Harbor looking to reduce the number of large cruise ships that visit its port, Glaser and Harbormaster Ryan Murry said there is an opportunity to encourage some of them to Rockland, within the visitation limits the city has already established.

“The question really is how much do we want to encourage cruise ship traffic or do we want to just let it happen and I think we should be going out and seeing if we can stir up some interest,” Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser said.

Whether or not Rockland should welcome large cruise ships has been a hot button issue in recent years.

In 2018, the city set limits on the number of large ships that can make stops in Rockland Harbor. Currently, only six cruise ships with more than 500 passengers can stop in Rockland annually,  and visits are restricted to the months of September and October. Small cruise ships with less than 500 passengers can dock anytime, as long as they don’t exceed the limit of two per day.

The pandemic has largely put visits by large cruise ships on hold in Maine. In 2019, only one ship with more than 500 passengers stopped in Rockland.

With the number of large ships the city is naturally attracting coming in below the set visit limit, Glaser said there is room for the city to accommodate more.

Rockland charges large cruise ships $10 per passenger, meaning that a cruise ship with about 2,000 passengers aboard ― the size of some of the larger ships that visit Rockland ― would result in $20,000 worth of revenue for the city.

With Rockland not booking larger cruise ships to fill its limit, Glaser and Murry said the city is losing out on potential revenue.

“I do think it’s a missed opportunity for the city, just the mere fact that [cruise lines are] willing to pay the bills if you give it to them. So I think it would be a dramatic increase in revenue if we do try to go after some of these ships that Bar Harbor is trying to get rid of,” Murray said.

By taking the initiative to reach out to cruise lines, instead of just waiting on them to reach out to the city, Glaser said Rockland can work on attracting companies that have better environmental reputations.

“One of the problems we have, if you just take them willy nilly, any of them can come in […] but there are some cruise ships that are environmentally [and] sustainably better than other cruise ship companies,” Glaser said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still causing uncertainty for cruise ship visits, it’s unclear if any large vessels will stop in Rockland this year. Currently, only one has inquired about stopping in Rockland, according to Murray, though no visits have been formally booked.