Otter Brook Project Supports Harpswell’s Fishermen and Clammers

By Monique Coombs

2016-Monique-CoombsAlong the coast of Maine, most fishing communities find themselves in very different circumstances than they once were. The number of commercial fishermen has declined; opportunities for fishing families to access and own waterfront have dwindled; and fewer fisheries are available for profitable harvests. Harpswell has experienced its share of fishing hardships, but there is hope in partnerships that protect the clean water upon which all of our fisheries depend.

Clams, lobsters and other marine species need clean water for breeding, feeding and growing; and coastal marshes and streams play a critical role in the flow of clean water into the ocean. Natural vegetation along the banks of streams and marshes limits the amount of pollution that enters the water and flows to the ocean. Thus, protecting land protects water. And protecting water protects fisheries.

Currently the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) has an opportunity to preserve 68 acres with 3,300 feet of frontage bordering on Otter Brook in north Harpswell. This area falls within one of the 12 Focus Areas identified for long term conservation efforts in the Town’s Open Space Plan of 2009.  Conservation of this land will positively impact marine water quality, provide recreational opportunities and protect wildlife habitat.

HHLT will be raising $495,000 to preserve two properties. Town voters will be asked to contribute $75,000 toward the project at Town Meeting on March 12.  HHLT has not requested town funding since its successful Special Places Campaign in 2002 that protected Johnson Field Preserve at Mackerel Cove and Skolfield Shores Preserve.

The Otter Brook project is vitally important to the nearby shellfish flats, according to Darcie Couture, Lead Scientist for Resource Access International and Harpswell’s Marine Resource Consultant.

Darcie Couture photo

Darcie Couture photo

“The Otter Brook area is positioned directly upstream of hundreds of acres of productive intertidal shellfish flats, where local harvesters and community members have worked for decades to improve the water quality of our intertidal habitat, in order to sustain a healthy ecosystem and important harvest opportunity to our traditional shellfisheries. As we begin to observe local impacts from the forces associated with global climate change, it is more important than ever that we act locally to preserve all of the gains that we have made,” Couture said.

Otter Brook drains the area of Harpswell Neck between Harpswell Neck Road and Hildreth Road into Ewing Narrows and Harpswell Cove. The Brook’s outflow directly impacts the neighboring clam flats and other marine resources. Preserving the land both protects the livelihood of local fishermen and clammers and protects public access to the area for local residents.

Harpswell has about 216 miles of coastline; longer than any other coastal town in the state. Though once a farming and shipbuilding town, over the years it is fishing that has brought the most profit to the town. Despite the long term decline in Maine’s fisheries, Harpswell is still home to many ground fishermen, scallopers, oyster-harvesters, clammers and lobster fishermen.  Protecting our fishing heritage is important not only to the fishing community itself, but also to ensure the scenic beauty of our town and the quality of life here that we all treasure.

Preserving Otter Brook will not solve all of our fishing community’s challenges. But we need to take the long term view of conservation efforts, since every small project is part of our Town’s goal of keeping Harpswell’s coastline and community beautiful and healthy forever.

Monique Coombs is the Seafood Program director for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

Click here for more information about the Otter Brook Project.