Coastal fishing communities in Maine gather after massive storm damage

Coastal fishing communities in Maine gather after massive storm damage

State officials announced this week that they have begun the process of seeking a federal disaster declaration for recent storms that devastated parts of Maine’s coast. But in fishing communities like Stonington, residents are already working to assess damage to homes, businesses and waterfront infrastructure, and begin the long recovery process.

Greenhead Lobster is a well-established business in Stonington. With three docks on the island, the company purchases lobster from more than a hundred boats in the summer months, before sorting and processing the lobster for sale.

At first glance, the company’s Webb Cove jetty looks quiet this week, covered in a layer of snow. It’s hard to imagine that a week ago, everything was under water.

“It was at high tide, and when that high tide happened, there was more water than anyone really expected,” said Allison Melvin, the company’s marketing director.

She describes how Wednesday’s storm flooded the dock, drowning refrigerators, burning out electrical systems and sweeping toboggans into the sea.

The operation’s pump house, where seawater is piped into live lobster storage tanks, barely existed, says Joshua Bates of Greenhead.

“I mean, this building was floating… I’m amazed it’s still standing there,” he said. “He was tied up with electrical wires and hoses going into him.”

Once the water receded, staff rushed to clean up and collect debris floating in the bay ahead of Saturday’s impending storm.

Although the storms and their impact have slowed most fishing, Bates says they haven’t stopped them.

“As if it doesn’t really matter what happens, they’ll keep going,” he said. “So they will find a way to set their traps in the water and go fishing.”

City-owned commercial pier in Stonington.  The pier was completely underwater during Wednesday's storm, causing extensive damage to fuel and electrical infrastructure.

Caitlin Beaudion

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Who is the public?

City-owned commercial pier in Stonington. The pier was completely underwater during Wednesday’s storm, causing extensive damage to fuel and electrical infrastructure.

There are similar stories in other coastal cities. The damage to piers and piers is perhaps the most obvious, but much of the electrical infrastructure embedded in the waterfront will also need to be replaced.

Wednesday’s storm affected the public pier and the city-owned commercial pier, said Linda Nelson, director of economic and community development.

“This dock has fuel, it sells fuel, it has electronics, and you see all the winches — none of them take advantage of salt water,” Nelson said. “A lot of that will have to be replaced. We’re estimating the damage here in the millions of dollars by the time we’re done.”

Companies like Greenhead are now assessing the extent of the damage and the costs of repairs. But with the entire coast feeling the effects of the storms, there will be a high demand for materials and contractors, which could slow recovery efforts.

Although this is the off-season for most fishermen in the area, crayfish will be active again during the warmer months, and Nelson says the industry must be ready.

“But it’s imperative that we recover from this and that our working waterfront recovers from this not only for the sake of Stonington’s fisheries, but also for Maine’s fisheries,” she said.

The city has been working for years to prepare for the reality of climate change, by conducting sea level rise surveys and applying for grants for local projects, but these floods were beyond expectations.

This raises questions about how to rebuild and repair in a way that enhances resilience to future storms. Nelson says that will require state and federal support.

“I hope this is a wake-up call for everyone,” Nelson said. “The country will take on a greater sense of urgency about how to address climate change and how to prepare for climate change.”

But residents are not waiting for state officials. They are already cleaning up and finding ways to rebuild stronger, and continuing their fishing operations in the meantime.

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