News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 2, 2019 and The Weekly Packet, May 2, 2019
Citizen petition seeks change in aquaculture lease rules
And moratorium on pending leases

by Anne Berleant

The Department of Marine Resources will hold a public hearing May 22 in Augusta, after receiving a certified citizen petition seeking modifications in the rules granting aquaculture leases greater than 10 acres that would “balance competing uses.”

A Portland-based consulting firm, The Knight Canney Group, announced the petition and the DMR’s response in an April 16 press release.

The petition, signed by 189 lobstermen and concerned citizens, also asks for an immediate moratorium on all pending lease applications greater than 10 acres, with the moratorium to be applied retroactively.

At the heart of the petition is a pending 40 acre lease application in Maquoit Bay in the Freeport-Brunswick region. Opponents to the lease formed citizens’ group Save Maquoit Bay with one member stating, via the group’s Facebook page, “Maine is literally giving away the ocean in these leases.”

One of the legal criteria for granting an aquaculture lease is that it doesn’t interfere with established commercial fishing.

Zone C Lobster Council and Maine Lobster Advisory Council member David Tarr, a lobsterman from Brooklin, said that the petition was created to specifically halt the proposed lease in Maquoit Bay.

“For myself, I don’t think most lobster fishermen are blanket opposed to aquaculture,” he said, noting that many lobstermen also grow mussels or harvest seaweed in aquaculture leases.

Neither the Zone C nor the advisory council have recently addressed aquaculture concerns, Tarr said, adding that for many lobstermen, wind farms are a bigger concern. While aquaculture usually happens along shorelines and is often suspended on the water, wind farms “take up a lot of area in fishing bottoms.”

“Any of the [aquaculture] leases we have in Zone C went through the application process and concerns were voiced,” he said. “That doesn’t mean every lobsterman got their way.”

Tarr is personally opposed to the proposed blanket moratorium. “I couldn’t put my weight behind it,” he said, adding that if his constituents felt differently, he would address the issue.

The petition highlights the fact that aquaculture lease rules can only be changed at the state level, something that DMR representatives have often cited to peninsula residents opposed to Bagaduce River aquaculture leases at public hearings in recent years.

The May 22 public hearing will be held in Conference Room 118, Marquardt Building, 32 Blossom Lane, Augusta, Maine, at 5 p.m. The deadline for written comments is June 1.