Willis Spear is pretty clear about why people want to come to Portland.

In a petition that he and other local lobstermen presented to the City Council, Spear let the city know that it’s the working waterfront that generates the attraction.

“You can go anywhere in America and see cheap hotels made of plastic and glass or condominiums pushed to the edge of the sea, but nowhere in America can you see little wharves, built in the 18th and 19th centuries, working daily to provide jobs and food for the people of Maine and the country.”

And of course he’s right. The lawyers from Pierce Atwood might work on Commercial Street, but how often do they get quizzed about their work by cruise ship passengers, or asked to pose with them for a photo? That kind of thing happens to fishermen all the time.

But this attraction could be fatal. There is a waterfront development boom that has the potential to bring more hotel rooms, more offices, more retail shops, more cars and especially more people, who could crowd out the very activities that make Portland special. Somebody ought to do something to protect the industrial waterfront, and those somebodies are the people in the development community and tourism industries, who benefit as much as the fishermen from the health of a real working waterfront.

What if office tenants were as passionate about keeping pleasure boats off the wharves as the people whose livelihood demands that they have space to tie up? What if hotel owners gave their guests transportation options that didn’t interfere with bait trucks on Commercial Street?

What if, for once, we didn’t kill the golden goose?

It’s easy to see what the fishermen are worried about.

There are four new waterfront projects in various stages of development that would bring thousands of people to Commercial Street.

A 300-unit hotel and condominium project is planned for the former Rufus Deering Lumber Co. site over by the Casco Bay Bridge, and another hotel is planned for what is now a surface parking lot on Fishermen’s Wharf a few blocks away.

At the eastern end of Commercial Street, the former Portland Co. property has an approved master plan for a multi-use development with historic restoration and new construction that includes housing, retail, restaurants and offices, on a piece of land as big as the entire Old Port. And just next door, Wex, a Maine-based technology company, recently announced plans to move its headquarters, with offices for 650 people, to the foot of India Street. The company’s president said access to the waterfront will be a recruiting tool for the fast-growing company.

On one hand, this is good news for Portland. No, not good news – great news.

People want to come here. They want to visit, they want to work here, they want to live here. They want to contribute to the tax base, which means that the city’s many and expensive infrastructure bills can be shared more broadly.

But Spear doesn’t look up the road and see new schools and modernized sewers. He sees a time when there is no room for him or his sons. It’s the general trend, not the specifics of any of these projects, that poses an immediate threat.

But the future doesn’t have to be so dark. Visitors gawking at fishermen can be a nuisance, but they also represent an opportunity to sell directly to consumers. Instead of one kind of business growing at the other’s expense, both could grow together.

So far the fishermen’s biggest concerns are parking and traffic, which are problems that can be treated with medicines other than a development moratorium.

There are routes besides Commercial Street to move through traffic across the peninsula, and there are vehicles besides private cars that can get tourists from their hotel rooms to local restaurants. If people circling the block for parking spaces are clogging up traffic, it may make sense to move parking elsewhere.

The city is preparing a traffic study of Commercial Street that will better define the problem and propose solutions.

Judging from the petition, the lobstermen are getting organized, and they will make the case that with more than 80 boats employing a couple of hundred people pumping millions into the local economy, their concerns should be taken seriously.

And the tourism and development industries should be right behind them, advocating for the health of their golden goose.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: gregkesich