Big changes could be in store for a quiet, lobster-fishing community in Washington County if a European firm ends up building a $110 million land-based fish farm on a largely undeveloped property overlooking Chandler Bay.
But Jonesport and its companion town of Beals, connected by a 1,000-foot arched concrete bridge over Moosabec Reach, already have been experiencing major changes in recent decades that have been more subtle, more gradual and less welcome. The towns have grappled with lackluster development, declining populations and school enrollments, and the effects of the opioid addiction crisis that has hit Washington County especially hard and led the FBI to Jonesport and Beals this past spring to raid three suspected drug houses in the community, as well as others in the county.
Nobody expects a major employer moving into town to solve all the challenges the towns face, even if the yellowtail aquaculture company Kingfish Zeeland does what CEO Ohad Maiman says it plans to do — hire 70 people up front, establish a job-training program with the local high school and Maine colleges, and possibly expand production later. But local officials and residents say the development could help boost and diversify the area’s economic prospects without sacrificing the rural, hard-working character of what has been a fishing town for more than 200 years.
“Fishing has always been our go-to [occupation] and, as far as I’m concerned, always will be,” said William “Billy” Milliken, a Jonesport selectman and local real estate agent. “But, as a Jonesport official, I’ve seen the need for change. Economic diversity is overdue in Jonesport.”
Milliken said he has not been a vocal proponent of the specific proposal from Kingfish Zeeland because he is the listing agent for the 94-acre property where the company plans to build and he personally has a stake in the project’s approval and the sale’s completion. But regardless of location, he said, a $110 million private investment in Jonesport, which now has a townwide property valuation of only $200 million, would have a “big” impact.
Jonesport, which has roughly 1,400 residents, and the island town of Beals, with a population about half as big, have been fishing communities for their entire existence. Native Wabanaki fished for food along what is now the Maine coast long before Europeans and their descendents — many of them with the last names Alley and Beal — first appeared locally in the 1700s and later established a commercial sardine industry. After sardines declined, with the last of the canneries shutting down in the 1970s, local residents set their sights on lobster, now the biggest fishery in Maine.
A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....
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