Drivers of Change


Working waterfront have evolved over time and will continue to evolve as new technologies, regulations, economies, and access point influence water-dependent uses.  Certain “drivers of change” have an especially profound effect on smaller and medium-sized ports and harbors as described below and illustrated by case studies. Download the report History, Status, and Trends of Working Waterfronts to learn more about the forces affecting the future of working waterfronts both large and small.

Fisheries Management
Working waterfronts are vital to the preservation and prosperity of coastal communities and to the support of the marine living resources industry.  The value of these marine living resources, including fishing and aquaculture, extends far beyond providing food for an increasing global population with a growing per capita seafood consumption rate.

Commercial fishermen depend on access to working waterfronts not only to earn income to support their families, but also to maintain their fishing tradition and community culture.  In the small-scale fishing industry, fishing is much more than an occupation; it is a way of life and the foundation of the community.  In conjunction with the harvesting and growing of living marine resources, working waterfronts also support necessary shoreside facilities, such as seafood processing plants.

U.S. fisheries are managed at the municipal, state, and national levels.  Management decisions have greatly contributed to changes at working waterfronts across the country.  For example, when catch limits are lowered, some fishermen opt to leave the fishery.  This can lead to unused dock space and shore-side support facilities. In some instances, communities have to decide whether or not to preserve the fishing infrastructure or to re-purpose/re-develop it.  The stories below highlight how a few communities have worked to maintain working waterfronts with an important fishing heritage.

Urban and Rural Redevelopment and Revitalization
Consider these statistics:

  • Nearly half of the population of the United States, 153 million people, lives along the nation’s 95,331 miles of ocean and Great Lakes coast.
  • Over the last three decades more than 37 million people and 19 million homes were added to coastal areas.
  • By 2015 the coastal population is projected to reach 165 million.

This population increase, and the associated land uses, can lead to conflicts with traditional water-dependent uses as well as spur the conversion of working waterfront properties to new uses.  These five case studies help illustrate how these conflicts can play out.

High Costs of Maintaining Waterfront Infrastructure and Dredging
Much of the existing infrastructure of the nation’s working waterfronts was created before many of the laws protecting coastal and marine environments were in existence.  Today, those bulkheads, seawalls, wharfs, piers, and dredged waterways essential to water-dependent activities are extremely costly to rebuild, repair, and maintain. Many waterfront businesses lack the revenue to make these investments. (Link to: Transforming Marquette, Michigan’s Waterfront with Form-Based Code and Balancing Fishing, Tourism, and Research in Newport, Oregon and Planning for Both Environmental Protection and Economic Development in Trinidad Harbor, California)

Dredging is a particularly important maintenance issue for ports and harbors large and small.  Though dredging needs are acute around the nation, Congressional appropriations from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) (established in 1986 to fund maintenance dredging, dredged material disposal areas, jetties, and breakwaters for ports and harbors) have lagged behind revenues contributed to the HMTF for several years.  Many communities now have a difficult time finding the funds needed to maintain the appropriate navigational depths required for safe passage in their waterways.  The experiences of two communities help illuminate this issue:

Dredging is also the subject of the User’s Guide to Dredging in Tidewater Virginia, which was developed for communities highlighted in the case study, Enabling Legislation in Virginia Establishes the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority.

Environmental Laws and Regulations
Compliance with laws designed to protect natural resources adds costs to the maintenance, rebuilding and expansion of waterfront infrastructure. In some cases, environmental protections preclude this work.  Implementation of these laws over the past four decades has improved environmental conditions. Ironically, however, these improvements have now made these environments attractive to a wider range of residential and commercial land uses, one that may displace traditional waterfront industries.  These two case studies shed light on this issue.