SORRENTO — The Department of Marine Resources gave Acadia Aqua Farms an early present a week before Christmas when Commissioner Patrick Keliher approved a renewal of the Trenton-based company’s lease for the bottom culture of mussels on a 14.3-acre site off Waukeag Neck in Flanders Bay.
Acadia acquired the lease, originally issued in September 1997 to Great Eastern Mussel Farms, in 2009. A pioneer in the shellfish farming industry, Great Eastern closed down in 2008 after almost 30 years of growing mussels along the Maine coast.
Acadia Aqua Farms is the on-the-water arm of the family-owned Hollander and de Köning Co. Owner Theo de Koning, joined in operating the company by his wife and two sons, is a fifth-generation Dutch mussel farmer and has been farming for more than twenty years.
The requirements for a lease renewal are far less stringent than for granting a new lease. All that is required is that the lessee be in compliance with the terms of the underlying lease, that the renewal will be “in the best interest of the state,” that renewal will not result in the lessee holding aquaculture leases totaling more than 1,000 acres and that the renewal is not sought for “speculative purposes.” In the renewal decision signed Dec. 18, Keliher found that Acadia met all of those criteria.
Acadia’s aggregate lease holdings, spread over five sites including the Flanders Bay renewal, totals 154.6 acres. The renewal is not speculative because, Keliher found, it is “clear from annual reports filed with DMR by the lessee … that aquaculture has been conducted on this lease site” for which there are no outstanding violations or complaints.
In determining that the renewal was in the state’s best interest, the test is whether the use of the site creates “a potential conflict with new or existing uses of the area which the commissioner determines to be a higher use of the area” from a public interest perspective. “There is no evidence of conflicts,” according to the decision.
Based on those findings, Acadia’s lease was renewed for a period of 10 years of its original expiration date, until Sept. 15, 2027.
The renewal is subject to several conditions including a prohibition against anyone dragging in the area without permission and limiting mussel harvesting and seeding activities to between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. Subject to the authority of the local harbormaster, owners of shoreland bordering the lease may still place moorings on the lease site.
DMR also approved two other aquaculture leases shortly before Christmas.
On Dec. 18, Keliher signed a decision granting a three-year, experimental aquaculture lease on a 3.7-acre site near Hog Island in Machais Bay, west of Machiasport, to Jacob Patryn for the purpose of cultivating sugar kelp using suspended culture (hanging longlines) techniques. Patryn will get his “seed stock” for the kelp from the University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR) in Franklin. Sugar kelp don’t have seeds as such. The kelp releases spores into the water, which settle and germinate into tiny plants in a CCAR facility.
Sugar kelp is a marine algae. Yellowish brown in color, it can grow up to 12 feet long. Known as a sweetener and as a thickening and gelling agent that can be added to food and cosmetics, sugar kelp is becoming a species of considerable commercial interest for aquaculture.
Patryn’s lease is subject to several conditions. Key among them are a prohibition against setting longlines on the site between June 1 and Sept. 30 each year so that area lobstermen may set traps on the site.
Also on Dec. 18, DMR renewed the lease of Petit Manan Seafood to grow oysters on a 2.13-acre site in Pinkham Stream, which flows into Pinkham Bay, in Steuben. The lease allows the company to continue bottom and suspended culture of American and European oysters until Dec. 3, 2027.