SEARSPORT, Maine — Locavores who live in or visit the Pine Tree State can meander along the Maine Beer Trail, sipping their way from one microbrewery to the next. They could eat their way from lobster roll to lobster roll along the coast or farm hop to see where their food is grown.
There is another type of trail to add to the Maine mix: the Downeast Fisheries Trail, which showcases the state’s fisheries heritage, from salmon farming to lobster fishing to the crucial sardine canneries of yore.
“A trend in travel is that people want to connect to the real thing on the ground,” Natalie Springuel of Maine Sea Grant, the coordinator of the trail, said recently. “They want to connect with local people. They want to know how they make a living. They want to know how to lobster, and how to pull up a trap. They want really concrete experiences to understand a place on a deeper level, and then they want to taste it at the end. So yeah, I think the fisheries trail provides a deeper understanding of a place and its people.”
The trail was first developed in a much smaller form in Washington County in 2000, featuring just 14 sites. But several years ago, a number of organizations there decided to revive it and expand it to foster tourism. The trail was broadened to include Hancock County and a little bit beyond.
The Downeast Fisheries Trail includes nearly 50 sites, ranging from historical societies and small fisheries museums to places such as the Cherryfield Cable Pool, where Atlantic salmon fly fishermen would flock every year.
“The project has really focused on celebrating what exists and pulling it together,” Springuel said. “One of the things that has been so neat about the project is that it has sparked incredible collaboration between the fishing industry and the tourism industry — two industries in Maine that don’t often talk. That’s been really great.”
The trail also features places important to the future of fishing in Maine, such as the Penobscot East Fisheries Center in Stonington, a nonprofit organization that aims to secure a diversified fishing future for Down East Maine and beyond.
“Our fisheries have been changing a lot in the last years, [even since 2000]” Springuel said. “We’ve become increasingly dependent on lobster, and the diverse nature of our fisheries has declined a little bit. There’s a continued and growing need to show to people both the historic fisheries, like ground fish and cod, but also that fisheries remain an important part of coastal economy and culture. It’s about celebrating the past, but also the present.”
Both the past and the present matter at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, at the western end of the Downeast Fisheries Trail. Collections manager Cipperly Good said that the museum was a natural fit for the trail. The 19th century buildings on the museum’s campus house collections such as the photographic archives of the National Fisherman magazine, oral histories from fishermen, boats and gear from the state’s maritime and fisheries heritage.
There also is a permanent exhibit called “Gone Fishing,” a play on words that points out that fishing in Maine could become a part of the past and not the future of the state “unless we wake up,” Good said.
“When we get these scares — like that lobsters are no longer found in Long Island Sound — it’s a wake-up call,” she said. “Fish are our livelihood. It’s hard to imagine Maine without fisheries.”
Ronnie Peabody, the curator of the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum in Jonesport, said that his museum is packed with artifacts from one of the state’s most recent bygone fisheries, which he described as the financial backbone of the coast.
“People on the coast should come,” he said. “This is how their ancestors had to earn their living.”
According to Springuel, the Downeast Fisheries Trail map and concept has helped people, both residents and visitors, to realize that there are deep connections from place to place along the coast.
“The hope is that it will give people a chance to remember our heritage and engage in it, so that the aspect of fisheries that has been so important to our economies historically and today will stay alive into the future,” she said. “People from away are really curious about Maine’s unique coastal economy. It’s also a way for locals to remember where we came from.”
Downeast Fisheries Trail maps can be found by calling Natalie Springuel at 288-2944, ext. 5834, or by downloading it from www.seagrant.umaine.edu/downeast-fisheries-trail.