The Spruce Head Fishermen’s Co-op has been leasing its waterfront property and wharf for 38 years. When property owner and co-op member Dick Waldron said he wanted to sell the property to the co-op, the co-op board and its members decided to accept the offer, a Jan. 13 press release said.

“The co-op members work hard and they deserve to own this property. I can’t imagine the property being used in any other way,” Waldron said.

The press release, which was issued by the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the State Planning Office, said the co-op received an award of $166,250 from the Maine’s Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program in exchange for a restrictive covenant that limits any future residential or recreational uses on their .25 acre parcel on Seal Cove in South Thomaston. The WWAPP is administered by the Land for Maine’s Future Program and the DMR. The working waterfront covenant forever protects the site for fishermen’s use.

“Over 50 boats fish from this property,” co-op President Bob Baines said. “We and our families depend on this piece of land for our livelihood. Mr. Waldron’s heart is in the right place.”

The Vinalhaven Fishermen’s Co-op closed their WWAPP project in December and have positioned themselves to buy more lobster from more boats and be more successful financially, the press release said.

In exchange for selling a protective covenant to the state guaranteeing use of the one-acre property for commercial fisheries’ access in perpetuity, the co-op used the $178,750 award for construction of a 900 square-foot bait freezer and refrigeration building, substantially increasing their bait storage capacity.

As the number of year-round lobster dealers in the Carvers Harbor area declined from five to three, the number of boats served by the co-op has doubled. Landings of fresh bait have decreased and fishermen are relying more and more on frozen bait. The new freezer and cooler building will allow the co-op to serve more boats and provide a secure bait supply for Vinalhaven lobstermen.

With 360 feet of deepwater frontage on the harbor, multiple buildings, state of the art refrigeration, two wharves and space for ample gear storage and member parking, the Vinalhaven Fishermen’s Co-op is one of the prime lobster buying stations in Midcoast Maine, serving as an economic engine to the island community where about half of the year-round households depend on the fisheries for their livelihood.

“You can’t catch lobsters without bait,” said co-op manager Carol Hamilton. “Although we have needed additional bait storage for some time, we did not have the money to build it. The income from the sale of the covenant has made the new building possible. The building helps provide the facilities necessary for the present generation of Vinalhaven fishermen and the covenant ensures that the facilities will be available for the future generations of Vinalhaven fishermen. It is a win-win situation.”

Although the WWAPP has committed to protect a total of 19 commercial fishing properties from Lubec to York, all funds been allocated and the future of the program rests on passage of a new bond for the Land for Maine’s Future Program, the press release said.

A natural resource bond referendum question totaling $10 million will be on the November ballot, and includes $2 million for the WWAPP program. According to the press release, approximately 100 critically important commercial fishing properties remain in the state. For additional information on the WWAPP visit the Web site at wwapp.org

Maine will host a national conference titled Working Waterways and Waterfronts National Symposium on Water Access in September in Portland. For more information about the conference, visit wateraccessus.com.