Winning the water lottery

Several of Maine’s traditional industries have been hard-hit since the 1970s. Shoe manufacturers, textile mills and paper mills have disappeared from the landscape like the stately old Elm trees that lined our Main Streets.

Yet, in the last few weeks, new possibilities for our economy have presented themselves — ventures that capitalize on one of the primary resources on the planet, water. Maine’s freshwater and saltwater are unparalleled resources. Water that is essential to aquaculture expansion, power supply, lobstering and marine resources, as well as clean drinking water. We have it; many other places do not.

There are today two active proposals for land-based salmon operations on Maine’s midcoast, investments of the caliber (roughly $250 million each) that can define a community and build up its economy.

Maine’s Department of Marine Resources recently announced that the state’s lobster harvest exceeded 100 million pounds for the seventh straight year. Cooperation among DMR, and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association) and, most importantly, nature quadrupled the annual lobster harvest from the levels seen in the early 1980s. The direct and indirect economic impact of lobstering and other Maine fisheries is now over $1 billion a year, while further supporting coastal communities and associated industries with a robust natural resource-based employment economy.

While last year’s lobster harvest was down roughly 10 percent in value from the previous, record-setting year, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher remains optimistic. “Change is inevitable and we must be prepared. This year’s decline in lobster landings is by no means a signal that the sky is falling, but it does highlight the need to make sure our management measures adapt to change.”

The lobster and salmon aquaculture further illustrate the value of our water assets. These assets also point the way for future development of other, more diversified aquaculture farming, as well as more land-based food operations, such as Madison’s 43-acre Backyard Farms year-round tomato growing operation.

Our clean waters create myriad economic opportunities. Our energy costs, however, create obstacles that need to be overcome to fully capitalize on the possibilities for future sustainability.

The first inhabitants of Maine thrived as fishermen. Today’s inhabitants can still thrive on fishing, aqua-farming and our water resources. Let’s build on the good news of now, acknowledge limitations and develop strategies to take advantage of our water lottery fortunes.

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