CUTLER — A three-year, four-acre experimental aquaculture lease to raise Atlantic salmon in Cutler Harbor was recently filed with the Department of Marine Resources.
The applicant? The Department of Marine Resources, more particularly DMR’s Division of Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat. The reviewer? DMR’s Aquaculture Division.
The application requests a lease on four acres on the south side of the harbor, east of Western Head and west of Little River Island. The proposal calls for DMR to install up to four 70-meter (about 230 feet) diameter circular net pens to be stocked with Atlantic salmon smolt (juvenile fish) either grown at the federal Green Lake National Fish Hatchery in Ellsworth or harvested in the wild from Downeast rivers. After the fish reach adult size, they would be reduced into the wild. According to the application, the purpose of the project is to study whether raising salmon from smolt to adult in marine net pens and releasing the fish as adults into high-quality habitats — smolt to adult supplementation (SAS) — can increase production and fitness of endangered populations of Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of Maine.
According to the application, “The true assessment of this study will be measured after the adult fish are removed from the net pens by the extent of successful adults that spawn in select rivers in Maine.”
So what happens when one branch of DMR asks another branch of the department to review an application for an aquaculture lease? Will they have an inside track to a speedy approval? Jon Lewis, longtime head of the DMR Aquaculture Division, says no way.
“We would run the Sea Run app(lication) just as we would any other,” Lewis said earlier this month. “We will have the AQ Division run the hearing, make the decision based on the criteria and any testimony or comments received and let the chips fall where they may.”
According to Lewis, DMR has “tried to maintain separation between Sea Run and the AQ Division” during the run-up to the filing of the lease application. Representatives of the Sea Run division, he said, have been in contact with the Cutler community trying to address any concerns there. Tiny in size, Cutler Harbor is home to a fishing fleet of some two dozen or so commercial fishing boats.
As of early March, no date had been set for a public hearing on the DMR lease application.
“For the Aquaculture Division, it’s business as usual,” Lewis said. “We’ll decide on the merits of the application and available evidence — no favors.”
The lease application will also be subject to limited review by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.