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The Desert

Wharfside

The Desert

Galen Koch

On the end of Merrill's Wharf on Portland's waterfront there's an empty lot. This is The Desert, where ground fishermen stretch out and mend their trawl nets. 

To hear this story, watch the slideshow above. If you prefer audio only, go here.


There are days when the end of Merrill's Wharf is nothing but a vast expanse of asphalt. Days when the activity on the end of this pier is limited to bait trucks and other vehicles maneuvering in-and-out. 

But for several afternoons each week, the empty lot bustles with workers. This is where ground fishermen spread out and mend their enormous trawl nets. Some fishermen call this net yard "The Desert." On a hot summer day the lot is sweltering, heat rises from the tar as fishermen weave and knot rope, mending breaks in the diamond-patterned nets. 

Nets on Merrill's Wharf. Jenny Rebecca Nelson © 2016.

Nets on Merrill's Wharf. Jenny Rebecca Nelson © 2016.

The Desert. Jenny Rebecca Nelson © 2016.

The Desert. Jenny Rebecca Nelson © 2016.

This net yard is an important space for ground fishermen. There aren't a lot of empty lots left on the Portland waterfront, and certainly not many that allow this kind of maritime work. This yard is special, not only because it's large enough to accommodate the trawl nets. The law firm, Pierce Atwood, moved to Merrill's Wharf in 2011. Any development on this empty yard would block Pierce Atwood's coveted view of Portland Harbor.  

Sometimes seemingly incompatible waterfront uses can yield unexpected outcomes. To listen to one such story, play the slideshow above. Welcome to The Desert. 


Wharfside: Stories of Portland Harbor's Working Waterfront explore the people, places, and work in Portland Harbor through photos, audio stories, and video. This project is made possible by the Waterfront Alliance and Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. Photos for this story by Jenny Rebecca Nelson. Music for this piece provided by Ross Gallagher and Loch Lomond. Animation assistance from Lake Buckley.

Produced by Galen Koch © 2016