AUGUSTA — An application for a 40-acre aquaculture lease to raise oysters in Maquoit Bay off Mere Point in Brunswick generated extensive and well-financed opposition from nearby landowners.
It also drew opposition from some lobstermen who either fish in the proposed lease area or who fear what some consider privatization of the ocean.
Many of those lobstermen who supported a change in the aquaculture leasing rules, and objected to the easy transferability of aquaculture leases when the transfer of fishing licenses is prohibited, came from Hancock and Washington counties.
The lease proposal also generated a petition to the Department of Marine Resources requesting that it change some of its aquaculture lease regulations. Among the requested changes was a moratorium on leases in excess of 10 acres.
Late in May, more than three dozen people — among them shellfish farmers, lobstermen, landowners, conservationists and business owners — showed up in Augusta for a DMR public hearing on the proposed rule changes.
In addition, the department received more than a dozen written comments from individuals supporting and opposing the proposed changes.
Most of the support for the changes, which included a request to apply the new rules retroactively, came from opponents to the still pending Mere Point lease application.
Opposition to the proposed changes came largely from shellfish farmers and groups involved with supporting or promoting aquaculture, including the Maine Aquaculture Association and the Island Institute.
Both the Mere Point applicants and opponents were represented by prominent Portland law firms, which also filed extensive written comments supporting their clients’ positions.
In a flurry of rulemaking activity relating to a number of fisheries published last week, DMR announced that it would not amend the aquaculture leasing rules as requested.
The petition asked that DMR change the lease procedure to include a requirement that the department consider whether there was some other suitable location near a proposed lease site that would have less impact on the surrounding area and its existing uses.
DMR rejected this change because, it said, it conflicted with “overarching statutory obligations regarding lease decisions” established by the Legislature. Even were that not the case, DMR said, it would be “unrealistic” to expect the department to evaluate every possible nearby alternative site given the resources of time and manpower that would require.
“Further, such an exercise could result in the perverse outcome of the selection of a site that does not unreasonably interfere with any existing uses but is unsuitable for the proposed aquaculture activity” or it “could have impacts on people who previously believed they would not be impacted.”
The department also declined to adopt a moratorium, retroactive or otherwise, on lease applications for sites larger than 10 acres, seeing no basis for such a change.
“The Legislature has limited the size of any single lease to no more than 100 acres,” DMR wrote in its response to oral and written comments on the proposed rule change. “The Department can adequately deal with the size of a lease requested under the current lease decision criteria.”