DMR seeks comment on Cooke Aquaculture lease renewal



FRENCHBORO — Just weeks after Cooke Aquaculture agreed to pay the state more than $150,000 to settle numerous violations at several of its salmon net pen sites in eastern Maine, the Department of Marine Resources is asking for public comment on the company’s application for a 20-year lease renewal.

The renewal is of a lease to grow salmon, other finfish and blue mussels on a 15-acre site located between Black Island and Placentia Island south of Bass Harbor and Great and Little Gott islands.

DMR gave notice last week that it had received a completed application from Cooke and notice that it would accept written comment on the application until 4 p.m. on Thursday Nov. 28, Thanksgiving Day. No hearing is required on lease renewals unless the department receives at least five written requests during the comment period.

The original 10-year lease was granted on March 15, 1999, and renewed in 2009 for an additional 10 years. The lease expired March 14 of this year, but DMR rules allow a lease to be extended on a temporary basis if a renewal application is filed before the original lease expires. Cooke filed its application in December of last year.

Initially, the lease allowed for the net pen culture of Atlantic salmon, haddock, cod and Atlantic halibut, and suspended culture of blue mussels. In its renewal application, Cooke says it plans to conduct “net pen aquaculture to raise Atlantic salmon consistent with previous years.”

The Black Island site isn’t the only one for which Cooke has applied for a lease renewal. Also listed on DMR’s website as “pending” are two applications for lease sites in Cobscook Bay for which the underlying leases expired in 2017 — a 22-acre site south of Kendall Head in Eastport and another off Comstock Point in Lubec. Public notice of both renewal applications was sent out in 2017 but no further action appears to have been taken.

The Black Island site is subject to several conditions imposed by DMR when the lease was transferred to Cooke from Island Aquaculture in 2010. Among those conditions: lobster fishing and scallop diving are allowed in the open areas of the lease site; fish processing beyond cutting of the gills and bleeding of the salmon as they are harvested is prohibited on site. In addition, there are requirements for a storm anchorage mooring and limits on the size of the work barge used on the site.

Last week, the state announced that Cooke had signed an agreement with the Maine Attorney General’s Office and the state Department of Environmental Protection to settle violations of its Maine Pollution Discharge Elimination System water quality permits found at virtually every one of its 13 net pen sites.

Among the violations charged were that Cooke exceeded allowable fish densities in its net pens, failed to file timely annual stocking notices and didn’t conduct required water quality monitoring.

To resolve the violations, Cooke will pay more than $156,000 to fund a new, DMR-led program that calls for the company to raise about 900 native Atlantic salmon in ocean net pens, then deliver them to the Machias River when they reach adulthood.

Cooke is also required to train its on-site workers on the correct methods to collect and handle water quality samples and on the proper timely filing proper documentation of the sampling and other required reports.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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