The Department of Marine Resources has purchased a protective covenant on the Ship to Shore Lobster Wharf in Owls Head with support from the Land for Maine’s Future Program, saying it will preserve the pier for commercial fishermen.

Rodney and Anna Mason’s decision to preserve their lobster buying station in Owls Head had much to do with Rodney’s desire to re-connect with the lobster business, according to a news release from the Land for Maine’s Future Program. Except for a short period of employment as a plant engineer out-of-state, he has fished for lobster in Casco and Penobscot bays part time since he was 12 years old. When the Ship to Shore Lobster Wharf in Owls Head Harbor was offered for sale in 2008, the Masons made the decision to buy the property and its lobster wholesale business with an eye toward an eventual transition away from other careers and a return to the tough demands of the working waterfront.

Since 1966, the property has also provided a deeded town right of way to deep water in the harbor.

Owls Head selectmen and the Masons are discussing extension of the agreement. The town would benefit, according to the state, if it could forgo the costs of locating and building an alternative access pier. The Masons hope the increased public foot traffic past their office will enhance retail sales of lobsters, according to the land agency.

“Continuation of the shared agreement will be beneficial for the town because we have little alternative for public access,” Owls Head Selectman Dick Carver said in the news release. “I’m happy the Masons bought the wharf. They’re hardworking people and an asset to the community.”

To help defray the purchase price of the property, the Masons applied for and recently received a Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program grant of $226,250 in exchange for selling a restrictive covenant on the property that would keep it in the commercial fisheries forever. With a quarter acre of land, 190 feet of ocean frontage, a 14,200-square-foot wharf, two buildings, boat fueling capability, floats and hoists, the property is one of two important seafood buying stations in the harbor, the state said.

The wharf supports about 30 lobsterboats and 45 fishermen, buying their catch and selling them the fuel and bait they need to fish. The covenant, which is attached to the property deed, guarantees that the lobsterboats will not be displaced by sport craft as they have been in other nearby Maine harbors.

“Although commercial boat landings will always be the primary priority of this wharf, diversifying the business model is necessary for the survival of the wharf,” the Masons said in the news release. “However, the first order of business is to preserve the property for generations as a significant piece of Maine’s working waterfront.”

The Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Land for Maine’s Future Program have joint responsibility for the working waterfront program. Maine voters approved two bond referendums in 2005 and 2007 that allocated a total of $5 million to protect the working waterfront. To date, 19 commercial fisheries properties ranging from York Harbor to Johnson’s Bay in Lubec have been allocated funds to purchase restrictive covenants on their use.

George Lapointe, commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources and chairman of the Land for Maine’s Future Board, said the waterfront grant program is the first program of its kind in the nation and is progressing through its pilot scale phase to a more mature, effective preservation tool for working waterfronts.

“Every project has its unique challenges, but the experience we have gained to date has served us well in bringing a suite of diverse properties successfully into the program,” Lapointe said. “Ship to Shore Lobster is a great addition to this group, and I know the Masons will put their all into expanding this working waterfront business to its full potential.”

Voters will be asked on the November 2010 ballot whether to approve $2 million for the preservation of additional commercial fisheries properties as part of a larger Land for Maine’s Future bond. Increasing interest in the program from working waterfront property owners supports estimates that up to 100 important working waterfront access properties are still at risk from alternative development and are crucial to much of coastal Maine’s reliance on fishing for economic prosperity, according to the state news release.

For more information on the working waterfront program, visit wwapp.org.