In 1950, there were 48 sardine factories in Maine. The last independently owned factory, L. Ray Packing Company, of Millbridge, closed in 2000.

We won’t get into the long story of how and why these factories closed down. But in the last 35 years, the Maine coast has changed considerably. Operations like sardine factories or fish-processing plants are no longer part of the fabric of community life, at least in part because they could not comply with new environmental rules to ensure public health.

So when attempts are made to bring back jobs based on seafood processing, these facilities may not be as welcome as they once were. Neighbors may think these facilities are more onerous than they really are and not give them a chance.

One example is Islesboro resident Seth Wilbur’s proposal to open a small crab-picking operation in Dark Harbor. He plans to cook and pick up to 200 pounds of crab daily, employing two people. This is not a huge operation. But Sandy Oliver reports in this issue of Working Waterfront that the Planning Board has received many letters opposing the proposal. And some abutters are concerned that Wilbur’s operation will generate flies and seagulls and smell bad.

There are local issues that come into play regarding Wilbur’s proposal. But it also raises a larger issue: how welcome will new seafood processing plants be along the Maine coast, now that they have been absent for so long?

It’s a crucial question. Because Maine’s ability to rebuild sectors like the groundfishing industry, and to keep the lobster industry successful, partly depend on new processing plants being built. It is so important that Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree (D-North Haven) included $3 million for grants and $2 million for loans for food processing facilities as part of her bond bill (L.D. 894) to support traditional industries.

To be successful today, many observers believe that groundfishermen and lobstermen should fish in a more conservation-minded manner and carefully process and market what they do sell. The Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative opened a fish-processing plant in Port Clyde in March that employees 12 people part-time. The plant, opened in March, allows the fishermen to sell their own picked shrimp and processed seafood, allowing fishermen to make more money from the fish they catch.

It all sounds good: local fishermen making more money by selling quality seafood that is processed locally, creating new jobs. As consumers, we’ll get better, fresher seafood. But it also means that we should accept the infrastructure that makes this all possible, including new processing plants operated in an environmentally responsible manner.