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March 15, 2017 | last updated March 15, 2017 12:08 pm

Island Institute publishes 'deep dive' into coastal, island economies

Photo / James McCarthy
Photo / James McCarthy
A lobster boat gets ready to head out to sea from Swan Island's harbor.

Some highlights from 'Waypoints'

  • Maine lobster landings are more than three times larger than they were 20 years ago, and are eight times larger in Washington County (as lobster catches shift north and east), providing an estimated $1.5 billion economic impact for Maine.

  • Maine is much more dependent on a single species as diversity of harvested seafood has declined by 70%. In 1995 landings of urchins, scallops, shrimp and groundfish added together to more than twice the amount of lobster landed that year. By 2015, fishermen landed more than seven times as much lobster as all of these other species added together
  • The Maine coast and islands rely on self-employment much more so than the state as a whole. Six communities, four year-round islands and two coastal towns rely on self-employment for more than 50% of all earnings. Self-employment provides 19% of earnings in the average coastal or island community, compared to a statewide average of 9%.
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The coast is further challenged by very low access to broadband service, where only 4% of the Downeast coast and 0% of islands have workable access speeds, compared to 62% of the U.S.
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Given that sea levels are projected to rise up to two feet by 2050 in Portland and up to 6.6 feet by 2100 — and that rapid ocean warming is projected to continue — broad economic impacts are likely for the Maine coast.

The Island Institute has published its first deep-dive comparison of the economic, community and environmental indicators for Maine's coastal and island communities with the rest of the state and nation.

The first edition of "Waypoints: Community Indicators for Maine's Coast and Islands" is intended to be a resource for local community members, state and federal representatives, agency staff and research partners whose work relates to and impacts coastal communities.

The infographic-rich publication includes detailed data on population and age; income and self-employment; the economic impact of fisheries and aquaculture; coastal tourism; broadband accessibility; energy and home heating; housing availability and affordability; education; fisheries; environmental change; conserved land; sea level rise; and ocean warming.

Supplementary data on each of the 120 island and coastal communities is available online.

Will there be a lobster fishery in 2060?

Dave Cousens, president of the Maine Lobster Association and an Island Institute board member, said data within the publication describes the impacts that climate change has already had on coastal and island communities and raises important questions about factors that might threaten the future economy of Maine.

"In 40 years will we have a commercial lobster fishery in Maine?" he said in an Island Institute release announcing the publication. "The temperature of the ocean is warming fast and has shifted all dependability. In Penobscot Bay, we are now in the sweet spot of water temperature where lobster thrives. We have the number one fishery in the United States now, but there is no lobster fishery south of Boston because the water is too warm. I'm concerned for my sons' future in this industry and for the resilience of the Maine economy. This publication makes these challenges crystal clear."

Publication's goal: 'To start conversations'

Heather Deese, vice president of research and strategy at the Island Institute, said those types of questions are precisely why the Island Institute pulled together data for coastal communities as well as the island communities for the first time ever.

"We produced this publication to put a new lens on the relationship between coastal and island communities," she said. "We hope it gives our partners a valuable way to start conversations about local challenges and opportunities, and serves as a resource for them in planning projects, attracting funding, and getting work done," said Heather Deese, vice president of research and strategy at the Island Institute.

Data from numerous sources has been aggregated and analyzed by the research team at the Island Institute and articulated through maps and charts illustrating the unique qualities of Maine's coastal and island communities. Examples show how the lobster fishery has shifted over time. They also show that Maine island residents experience some of the highest energy costs in the nation.

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