Gulls flock to a pier in Tenants Harbor in this December 2001 file photo. Credit: Leanne M. Robicheau / BDN

The closure of a working wharf in the midcoast on May 30 is the latest hurdle for fishermen as access to commercial space along Maine’s coastline continues to shrink.

The wharf in Tenants Harbor, operated by Bean Maine Lobster, was damaged during the December storm that battered some coastal communities in Maine. Engineers determined a month ago that the damage, combined with general wear and tear over the years, meant the wharf needed to be shut down for repairs, said Mike Smith, who managed the facility.

It’s unclear when the wharf will reopen.

Declining waterfront access has been an issue for fishermen in Maine for decades. Of Maine’s thousands of miles of coastline, only about 20 miles are left for commercial access, according to a 2022 report by the Island Institute. That’s a five-mile decline since the early 2000s, according to a report from Maine’s Working Waterfront Coalition.

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the pressure on working waterfronts throughout the state, said Monique Coombs, community program director at the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

A commercial fishing wharf in Tenants Harbor now sits empty due to damage sustained from a winter storm. Working waterfront access has been an increasing issue in coastal communities that rely on commercial fishing. Credit: Braeden Waddell / BDN

“Access in general in the state of Maine is changing a lot right now,” Coombs said

Lack of funding for wharf repairs and improvements, rising business expenses and a recent influx of new Maine residents seeking waterfront homes have put pressure on the commercial fishing industry along the coast, she said.

Although the Tenant’s Harbor wharf will likely remain a commercial access point once restored, in the meantime it’s left waterfront workers scrambling for other places to work, Smith said. Smith and five others are now working in Port Clyde, and three workers have relocated to other wharfs in the area.

When a wharf closes, it can also lead to competition for space and access between fishermen at a community’s remaining access points, Coombs said.

A representative from Bean Maine Lobster was not immediately available for comment.

Another key issue the Fishermen’s association has been tracking is contention between new coastal home owners and longtime workers, she said. The association has seen a rise in legal challenges and complaints issued about the fishing industry. Local governments aren’t always ready to handle a sudden increase in these conflicts, whether it’s permitting issues, complaints or legal action, Coombs said.

“Boats start early, forklifts beep when they back up, bait smells, those are all things that, if you’re part of the community, you learn to just love and appreciate over time,” Coombs said. “But if you’re a newer resident, you might not necessarily appreciate that.”

Braeden Waddell is a reporter covering Belfast and Waldo County. He grew up in Waldoboro and joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023 after working as an associate producer for National Public Radio. He graduated...