ELLSWORTH — The Maine Department of Marine Resources is proposing a number of changes to its regulations controlling the way it handles applications for aquaculture leases and the way those leases are granted.
Most of the changes are minor but a few could have a real impact on the state’s shellfish aquaculture industry.
The biggest change is in the schedule of annual rent charged for aquaculture leases. Currently, the annual rent for every aquaculture lease site is $100 per acre, with most leases lasting 10 years.
The DMR is proposing to cut that fee in half for the first two years of a lease devoted to the bottom culture of blue mussels. The reduced rent would apply only to new leases granted under applications completed in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
The purpose of the rent reduction is to encourage fishermen who harvest wild mussels to switch their efforts to mussel farming. To promote that goal, the rent reduction would apply only to new leases.
Other changes for the regulations reflect changes in the state’s shellfish farming industry. Traditionally, Maine shellfish growers have concentrated on raising oysters, hard clams and mussels. Recently, some Downeast fishermen have shown an interest in growing scallops.
Reflecting that interest, the Department of Marine Resources is proposing to add scallops to the list of shellfish that may be raised under a Limited Purpose Aquaculture (LPA) license. The regulations also clarify the siting requirements for LPAs.
In recognition of the state’s fiscal crisis and the Governor’s demand that state agencies reduce their budgets, the proposed regulations contain provisions aimed at slicing the DMR’s operating costs. This includes making applications and reports available electronically to save mailing costs.
The department will hold a public hearing on the proposed regulations at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 16, at the DMR laboratory on McKown Point Road in West Boothbay. For information, call Diantha Robinson at (207) 633-9531 or Laurice Churchill at (207) 633-9584. Copies of the proposed regulations are available at maine.gov/dmr/rulemaking.