The lobster fishing boat Orca heads out into the harbor in Stonington after picking up a passenger at the public landing on Nov. 9, 2018. Credit: Bill Trotter

A planned expansion and upgrade of a town dock in Stonington will take into account a sad fact — that lobstermen are especially prone to injury due to the nature of their work.

To that end, the expanded Stonington Fish Pier will feature a gangway — the walkway from shore to the dock — that’s wide enough to accommodate a stretcher, so EMTs don’t hurt themselves as they rush injured fishermen to an ambulance. New hydraulic lifts to help lobstermen haul in traps from their boats are also meant to prevent injuries.

The widened gangway is part of a more than $1 million plan to add 50 feet and more safety features to the 450-foot dock on West Main Street in the next five years.

The project complements another proposed change to Stonington’s waterfront: a 2,000-square-foot expansion to the wharf at Stonington Lobster Co-Op on Indian Point Road in 2020 that recently garnered a $216,000 grant. The state’s Land for Maine’s Future program will give the money to the co-op to pay for a covenant that will keep the wharf dedicated solely to fishing in perpetuity, said Sarah Demers, LMF’s director.

Both projects are important to Stonington, the largest lobster port in the country and the largest fishing port in Maine. Stonington Harbor serves about 430 fishing boats, and about 75 percent of the town’s economy is commercial fishing, said Henry Teverow, Stonington’s economic development director.

Ergonomics are an important aspect to the pier project, given the injuries fishermen endure, Teverow said. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health calls commercial fishing one of the most hazardous occupations in the U.S., with lobstermen experiencing a high fatality rate on the job — sometimes the result of lobstermen becoming entangled in trap lines on deck. In addition to the high fatality rate in the trade, lobstermen commonly experience sprains and a range of wrist and hand injuries.

“Fishing is not like sitting behind a desk,” Teverow said.

The lengthened docks mean more space for boats, and the covenant means Stonington’s fishing industry will have a permanent place to work, Demers said.

“This stabilizes that waterfront,” Demers said. “It is a huge win for the town and the co-op. This co-op has looked long and hard and really was diligent in their decision about when to submit their proposal to us. They have been thinking about how to do this for a very long time.”

Watch: The Maine lobster industry

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