Opinion: Small-town runaround

As a maritime journalist, I have seen firsthand the struggles fishermen face to simply make a living. I’m also a mate on the F/V Nor’easter, a commercial fishing boat that has diversified, as so many commercial fishermen must these days.

This story was first published in the September issue of National Fisherman. Subscribe today for digital and print access.

In February 2019, Maine lobsterman Michael J. Perkins asked Perkins Cove Harbormaster Fred Mayo about obtaining a seasonal dockage permit. Perkins, a U.S. Coast Guard Master Captain, hails from a long line of commercial fishermen, tracing his lineage back 200 years in the harbor of Perkins Cove, located in Ogunquit, Maine.

In the fall, winter and spring, Perkins is a lobsterman. In the summer, he takes passengers offshore to deep-sea fish, for special-occasion charters and ash scatterings.

Perkins inquired about the permit in Perkins Cove to offer customers the opportunity to board the Nor’easter in her home port of nearby Kennebunkport, steam to Perkins Cove for shopping and dining, and leave within the permitted two-hour time.

Mayo verbally denied his request. When Perkins asked why, he was told the Nor’easter was “too big” and “it was not safe to enter Perkins Cove.”

After checking the town’s Harbor Ordinance, we found the boat is within the town’s size specifications.

We contacted the Army Corps of Engineers about safety concerns in the harbor, and received this response, “There are no Army Corps of Engineers safety concerns prohibiting a boat of your size in Perkins Cove.”

In March 2019, we contacted Ogunquit Town Manager Pat Finnegan and asked why we were being denied the permit when we are within the town’s ordinance and the harbor is deemed safe. We were told she would look into it.

On April 3, 2019, we were notified that the harbormaster had sent a written decision on the permit. The decision was again a denial of the permit.

We immediately appealed the denial on the basis that the ordinance states we are within the town’s guidelines and the Army Corps confirmed there are no safety concerns.

Weeks went by with no notice of an appeal date with the harbor committee. During these weeks, mooring holders in Ogunquit notified us that a meeting was set for May 2, and the harbormaster was personally approaching them, encouraging them to attend the meeting.

We emailed the town manager and harbormaster to inquire if a meeting was scheduled for May 2 and were told, “It is tentatively scheduled for May 2, 2019.”

The agenda for the harbor committee meeting was announced one week prior to the meeting, with inaccurate information as to what was being appealed and by whom.

We contacted the harbormaster, town clerk and town manager, and asked them to correct this information before the meeting, as it was inaccurate, misleading and posted publicly. It was not corrected.

At the meeting, five select board members were present. Of the five, one official board member was a commercial fisherman. Board member Steve Perkins, cousin to Michael Perkins, did not vote due to conflict of interest, though he stated, “The town is opening itself up for a lawsuit, as a federally funded harbor cannot dictate who does and does not enter, permit or otherwise.”

Board Chairman Tim Tower replied, “Let them bring on a lawsuit; the town has the money.”

We asked why we were denied a permit when the town ordinance allows our size, and that there are other boats in the harbor — some belonging to the members of the harbor committee that are within our size there.

Tower replied, “Although the ordinance and the Army Corps of Engineers has not restricted it, the harbormaster has the final say.” He added, “We are changing the ordinance. It was a mistake to allow the other business a permit.”

Harbor committee member Jack Gordon stated, “Ogunquit does not need your business. Take your passengers to York.” Tower added, “The Nor’easter is only welcome in Perkins Cove if it is in distress.”

Tower adjourned the meeting with a statement that the committee was standing by the harbormaster’s decision to deny a permit.
We immediately appealed the decision and requested to go in front of the select board with the matter.

On June 1, 2019, we were notified of the select board appeal set for June 4, 2019.
At the recorded board of selectmen meeting, with the town of Ogunquit attorney Mary Costigan present, we were informed that the seasonal dockage permit had been eliminated altogether — sometime after the harbor committee meeting that denied us and before our appeal of this denial at the town meeting.

It’s bad enough what fishermen have to go through at the state and federal level.
When a federally funded working harbor (with a harbor committee with only one commercial fisherman on the board) denies a commercial fisherman an opportunity to diversify, a sad division has taken place in the industry.

About the author

Shelley Wigglesworth

Shelley Wigglesworth is an award winning journalist from Maine specializing maritime topics and the commercial fishing industry. She is the mother of two grown children and a part-time mate on two Maine fishing boats, the Nor’easter and the Island Prince.

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