GOULDSBORO — The Planning Board is drafting an aquaculture ordinance to regulate only large-scale Atlantic salmon and other finfish-farming development on land.
The move comes after the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) charged that the town had overstepped its authority in a prior, broader draft regulating all forms of aquaculture on land and in the ocean.
Local seaweed and oyster farmers also voiced concerns that the initial proposed regulations could jeopardize their existing operations.
At their regular meeting Tuesday, May 3, Planning Board members unanimously agreed to limit the ordinance’s focus to finfish-related operations on land. A previous draft Aquaculture Licensing Ordinance would have applied to all aquaculture — whether raising softshell clams in nursery trays floating in a former lobster pound or growing seaweed in Frenchman Bay. That proposal contained sweeping standards and requirements from noise, parking and exterior lighting specifications to having an environmental impact statement study conducted.
The board also chose not to pursue testing whether Gouldsboro’s jurisdiction over aquaculture operations extends beyond the low water mark and into the ocean. Gouldsboro’s municipal boundaries encompass a portion of Frenchman Bay, including Bar Island. Depending on the marine activity, the DMR, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have jurisdiction to regulate aquaculture, commercial fishing, boat traffic and navigation in Frenchman Bay.
“The state has told us we cannot control the water,” said Planning Board Chairman Ray Jones, responding to DMR Deputy Commissioner Meredith Mendelson’s April 21 letter to the town.
Citing state statute (Title 12, 6072 (1)), Mendelson wrote that her agency under law has “exclusive jurisdiction to lease lands in, on and under the coastal waters, including the public lands beneath those waters and portions of the intertidal zone, for scientific research or for aquaculture of marine organisms.” She said state law would supersede any Maine municipality’s aquaculture licensing program in those waters.
“We believe our existing process is robust and provides adequate opportunity for municipal engagement, as well as public participation, to ensure appropriate protection of existing uses,” Mendelson said.
To revamp its ordinance, the board must first define large-scale finfish aquaculture. One measure being considered is a company’s projected annual fish landings — how many pounds are brought ashore and unloaded at the wharf — to determine whether a proposed finfish project would require the town’s finfish aquaculture license.
In its review of an applicant, the board would scrutinize not only the seafood-processing plan, but also fish hatcheries, fish waste-sludge conversion and any other ancillary activities that could potentially affect the community’s infrastructure, water supply and other resources.
“When it [finfish aquaculture activities] comes on shore, it’s fair game,” Rudman Winchell attorney Tim Pease told the board Tuesday night.
Pease and staff drew up the preliminary, broader aquaculture ordinance. The attorney is now helping the board narrow its focus to salmon and other finfish and devise regulations that apply to fish farms’ activities on land.
“If it comes on shore, you have a say in it,” Pease said.
As he has said previously, Pease reiterated that a finfish aquaculture license would work well because it would be subject to renewal. The license holder would also have to periodically demonstrate compliance with the town’s standards and rules.
“Bars and [other] licensees will lose their licenses if they are not cleaning” or fulfilling other regulations, the attorney noted. “There’s an incentive for licensees.”
Jones, who also heads Gouldsboro’s Solid Waste Committee, said amendments already have been drafted for strengthening the town’s Solid Waste and Recycling Ordinance vis-à-vis large-scale finfish aquaculture. The proposed changes will be presented at a public meeting in coming months and would require a town meeting vote to be implemented.
Among the changes is the inclusion of fish in the definition of unacceptable waste. For conversion into sludge, any fish-processing waste would require prior certification for agriculture application by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The proposed amendments are available on the town’s website at gouldsborotown.com.
Jones also expected the drafting of a finfish aquaculture license ordinance to take many months to complete. Like any proposed ordinance, it, too, would be subject to a public hearing and a special town meeting next fall before the town’s continued moratorium on finfish aquaculture development expires.