National Conference puts the spotlight on Working Waterfronts

Contributor: Natalie Springuel, Marine Extension Program Leader

The sea breeze is keeping us cool this unusually hot day on the waters of Boston Harbor. We have left the Islands behind, including the gigantic egg-shaped sewage treatment towers on Long Island, and the recreational boats zooming to and fro. Our tour boat enters the inner reaches of Boston Harbor where skyscrapers tower over shipping containers and 3-story high hoists transfer America’s products onto ocean-crossing barges. Nearby, the New England Aquarium shares harbor space with marinas, tug boats, fishing vessels, a road salt depot, and a mass of waterfront infrastructure, bulwarks, bridges, jetties, retaining walls, piers and all manner of wharves. The dizzying level of activity in Boston Harbor exemplifies the diversity of the nation’s working waterfronts in one urban patch of shorefront.

The passengers on the boat are from all around the nation and have descended upon Boston for the National Working Waterfront Network Conference 2022, the sixth such national conference hosted by the Network of the same name (also known as NWWN). As founding members of NWWN, Maine Sea Grant has sponsored and helped coordinate this event since its inception in 2007 in Virginia. Participants in these conferences, including the one we hosted in Portland, Maine in 2010, come from all walks of waterfront life. Sea Grant programs are well represented, as are state Coastal Zone Management programs, commercial fishing and aquaculture industry members, port authorities, municipal officials and harbormasters, legislative aids, industry associations, non-profits, planning consultants and, in more recent years, wind energy representatives and others seeking to mitigate climate and hazard impacts on waterfront infrastructure. 

One participant from California, a supporter of the Santa Barbara commercial fishing industry, expressed that he came to the National Working Waterfront Conference because, “Well, I am a big fan of cross-sector collaboration. I’ve worked in natural resources for 40 years. And so the old saying about ‘you don’t always need to reinvent the wheel’ — others have been there and worked hard and come up with great solutions. And it’s important that you be aware of what those are. So this conference is a showplace for those solutions or best practices as we like to call them today.”

Stories of Maine’s working waterfronts thread through most conversations at the 2022 conference, including presentations by Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Coastal Program, Coastal Enterprises, Inc, Maine Aquaculture Association, faculty/staff/students at University of Maine and College of the Atlantic, Land for Maine’s Future, Sea Meadow Marine Foundation, and Tidal Bay Consulting.

Our own Maine Sea Grant extension staff helped review abstract proposals, plan field trips, and provide support to conference coordinating staff. We presented sessions or facilitated plenaries about workforce development, the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, using local-level economic data to inform decision making about working waterfronts, the history of Maine seaweed aquaculture, coordinating a national and local response to the pandemic, innovation and resilience in Maine’s seafood economy, and aquatourism as a tool to diversify working waterfronts. 

In the final conference plenary, Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st Congressional District, a long-time supporter and author of legislation to preserve the Nation’s working waterfronts, highlighted Maine’s national leadership in working waterfront innovation and thanked the National Working Waterfront Network for keeping the spotlight on these complex and critical spaces for our national economy and local coastal culture. 

This year’s conference theme, Traditions and Transitions, reflects how working waterfront communities around the country are grappling with resilience in the face of change, seeking to embrace the future while holding onto their maritime heritage. That’s as true in Maine as it is in Louisiana, Oregon, California and all corners of this nation where people’s livelihoods and businesses depend on access to the sea. 

To hear portions of Representative Pingree’s plenary address and interviews with conference participants from Maine, Louisiana, Oregon and California, please tune in to Maine Sea Grant’s Coastal Conversations Radio show on August 26, 2022, 4-5 PM on WERU Community Radio, 89.9 FM or streaming live at when this month’s episode will feature highlights from the 2022 National Working Waterfront Network Conference.  

(Thanks to Olivia Jolley for help compiling information in this article) 


Posted 29 August 2022