Lobster Harvesters Challenge Maine's Aquaculture Permitting Rules

Mar 21, 2019

Maine has had a small but growing aquaculture industry, but a proposal by the Mere Point Oyster Company to build a 40-acre oyster farm in Maquoit Bay in Brunswick has angered many local lobster harvesters. They’ve submitted a petition that would require the state to review its aquaculture permitting rules.

A group of lobster harvesters joined members of the citizens’ group Save Maquoit Bay at the state house to deliver the signatures. The group’s Paul Dioli says it’s time to revisit the criteria used to assess aquaculture projects.

“Lobster landings were 76 percent, oyster landings were 1 percent. The tail is wagging the dog,” says Dioli.

Dioli says the seafloor is owned by the public, and that the Department Of Marine Resources (DMR) should consider a project’s economic importance to the community when weighing permits. Current criteria include the level of noise generated by the facility, navigation protections and interference with wildlife and marine habitat.

Julie Eaton of the Maine Lobstering Union says that as more of the ocean bottom is taken up by aquaculture operations, there’s less territory for lobstering.

“We have a big problem with allowing anyone sole use of 40-acres of publicly held bottom,” says Eaton. “Historically fished lobster bottom.”

Eaton says the group wants the DMR to place a moratorium on aquaculture permits of more than ten acres, including the one proposed for Maquoit Bay, until it can go through a new rule making process. That can take several months, and Save Maquoit Bay member Monty Vogel of Brunswick says the moratorium is needed for practical reasons.

“Once those things go in, people will have their money in and all their equipment and what not, it’s going to be impossible to reverse this,” says Vogel.

The group says it has submitted 189 signatures under state administrative law. If at least 150 of those signatures are valid, the agency must institute rule making. The petition also seeks to have the new rules be retroactive in order to apply to the Mere Point Oyster Company application.

DMR spokesperson Jeff Nichols says the agency has received the petition and is reviewing it to make sure it is in proper form.

Originally published 5:10 p.m. March 20, 2019