Innovators Gather at National Working Waterfront Network’s Conference

Island Institute joins partners in Boston to explore new ways to preserve and protect our working coast

Molly Miller
Posted 2022-07-29

The 6th biannual National Working Waterfront Network’s Conference kicked off in Boston this past week! As one of the event sponsors, the Island Institute was proud to attend and represent Maine and our work in this sector. This year’s theme, traditions and transitions explored the culture and history of the working waterfront as well as its future—as community and industry leaders find new and innovative ways to preserve and protect our working coasts.

The conference’s three-day schedule was packed with engaging presentations about initiatives and projects bolstering working waterfronts across the country. From climate adaption and mitigation strategies to the ways that aquaculture can benefit tourism to increasing BIPOC representation, we had the opportunity to engage with a variety of topics.

One topic of great importance, including the conference plenary, was workforce development and diversification. Ben Conniff, our partner at Luke’s Lobster, was a member of this plenary panel and spoke about a program designed to help BIPOC students obtain a student lobster license in this predominantly white, male fishery. The Island Institute is proud to be working with Luke’s to support this initiative.

There were some fascinating presentations about the development of the marine aquaculture industry, as it plays an important role in working waterfront resilience efforts across the U.S. Maine Sea Grant and the Maine Aquaculture Association both presented on growing the seaweed aquaculture sector in Maine, highlighting the community, economic, and environmental benefits it provides. We heard about how aquaculture can support local tourism with the example of the Maine Oyster Trail, an interactive guide that helps you find oyster farm tours, raw bars, boat & kayak tours, and opportunities to buy oysters directly from farmers anywhere along the Maine coast .

Other topics included restoring and repurposing working waterfront infrastructure in Massachusetts’ ports, innovative solutions created during the pandemic to reach seafood markets, and climate resilience efforts occurring across the country in working waterfront communities. Our friends at Sea Meadow Foundation presented on The Boatyard, a property that they purchased in order to prevent the conversion of working waterfront space to other uses, as skyrocketing land and real estate prices can make it harder for working waterfront property to remain as such. The property now houses two boat builders and several aquaculture farm start-ups with the goal of further developing the land with added infrastructure for these businesses to share, as limited or aging infrastructure can be a challenge for working waterfronts along the coast.

Island Institute’s Senior Community Development Officer, Sam Belknap was a critical member of the executive committee for the conference and moderated panels as well as organized an exciting discussion with some of our partners on decarbonizing the blue economy. This session featured Ben Conniff of Luke’s Lobster, Matt Tarpey of Maine Electric Boat Company, and Boe Marsh of Community Shellfish. Together, we discussed various research initiatives and actionable steps that they are taking to reduce the carbon footprint of Maine seafood from ship to shore and throughout the entire supply chain. Ben presented on their efforts to identify and quantify emissions from each step of the seafood supply chain for the lobster industry and some of the replicable action items that can be taken to reduce emissions, work supported by the Island Institute and consultants at Council Fire.

Matt focused on the benefits of electric outboards and our partnership to outfit 100 small boats in Maine’s blue economy by 2025. Both the implementation of outboards on the coast and workforce development to train people to work on and repair these types of motors is a significant focus for this project. Aiding this transition will be a critical part of reducing our reliance on fossil-fuels. Boe Marsh spoke about the implementation of such efforts, including Community Shellfish’s project to build out shoreside infrastructure, particularly the installation of solar panels, that reduces their facilities’ dependence on electricity and can help with the adoption of electric engines. With the help of Island Institute, Community Shellfish was just awarded a USDA solar grant that will help them along their journey to electrify their operations!

This panel did a fabulous job illustrating how Maine’s seafood sector and working waterfront are addressing the causes and consequences of climate change. Through the outstanding leadership of this group, we hope our efforts to decarbonize the seafood supply chain can provide insight and information to those along any coast who are looking to do the same. We’d like to thank the National Working Waterfront Network and Urban Harbors Institute of UMass Boston for a great conference. We left inspired and electrified to continue these efforts across Maine’s coast!