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Maine Shellfish Farming Proposal Runs Into Local Opposition
05/28/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Plans for an experimental aquaculture operation near Mount Desert Island have some local residents up in arms. Supporters of the scheme to raise commercially-harvested clams and oysters see it as a way to stimulate the local economy, with minimal effects on the scenery or the environment. But some locals disagree. And, as Tom Porter reports, they also have questions regarding the partiality of the state when it comes to awarding aquaculture leases.

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Morgan Bay is a picturesque piece of coastal Maine, located a few miles to the west of Mount Desert Island. Shellfish farmer Joseph Porada already runs a small experimental clam-harvesting operation in nearby Goose Cove (above). Now he wants to take over four acres of Morgan Bay for another experiment, testing the viability of growing mostly oysters, along with hard-shelled clams - also known as northern quahogs.

"I'm hoping it leads to me being able to sell roughly half a million oysters a year, sort of on an artisanal basis," Porada says.

The shellfish farm he envisions would employ several local residents; it would also include cages and hundreds of floating nursery bags. Some of the gear will be visible, he admits, especially at low tide. But he doesn't think the operation would ruin the character of the bay, or prevent people from enjoying it for recreational purposes.

"I'm not here to hurt anyone," he says. "I'm here to make a living for myself and hopefully to encourage others in the aquaculture vein, and to find ways to make it work for Maine and for me."

"I think it certainly is a noteworthy project. It's an attempt to create a working waterfront in Morgan Bay," says Brian Beal, a marine science professor at the University of Maine in Machias. He's also a consultant for Joseph Porada's aquaculture operations.

Beal says the Morgan Bay proposal has great potential. "This could be a great area to begin some shellfish operations in."

But a working waterfront is exactly what a number of local residents don't want to see. Attorney David Kallin represents a couple of landowners in the Hancock County community of Surry, which overlooks Morgan Bay. His clients are among those protesting Porada's plans for a commercial shellfish farm.

"One of my clients owns a camp down by the water, and like many small landowners in Maine that drive Maine's tourism economy, rents out that camp to people that are coming to visit Maine," Kallin says.

He says his client is hearing from regular tenants who are now threatening to take their tourism dollars elsewhere if Porada's plans go ahead. That's because they're worried that the aquaculture operation will affect the recreational activities they do there, like swimming and kayaking.

Kallin says Maine's Department of Marine Resources considers a number of criteria when reviewing aquaculture lease applications. There are currently about 20 pending. But he says the DMR does not give adequate consideration to the concerns of shorefront landowners.

Another concern is the actual decision-making process used by the state. Kallin says he's troubled by the fact that the department also has a mandate to promote Maine's coastal fishing industry. He points out that the DMR has never denied an aquaculture lease application.

"Having the decision-maker have a mandate that includes promoting and developing the Maine coastal fishery industries sometimes raises concerns," Kallin says.

But DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher says these concerns are not valid.

"We don't promote aquaculture," he says. "In fact, the terms 'promotion' within state law has been removed when it comes to aquaculture. So we have the overall authority to both manage and promote all commercial fisheries, but promotion has actually been removed from state law when it comes to aquaculture, so we do not promote aquaculture."

A public meeting on Joseph Porada's aquaculture proposal for Morgan Bay is being held on June 18 at Surry Elementary School.

Photos:  Courtesy Joe Porada

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