March 28, 2014






Scallop farm proposal catches ire of fishermen
by Lora Whelan


     A number of area fishermen expressed their strong opposition to a proposed scallop aquaculture farm that would be located in Cobscook Bay. A public scoping session held by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and David Sweenie of Bold Coast Scallop Farm LLC on the evening of March 25 drew about 20 fishermen and residents to the Perry Municipal Building to hear about the potential scallop farm in East Bay. The scoping session is a part of the DMR process of aquaculture site leasing and licensing. It was not an adjudicatory hearing, but rather allowed the public to learn about the proposed lease and have an informal discussion with Sweenie about his project.
     The proposed site would use 12 acres and be located off Redington Island, near Leach Point, Perry. Bold Coast Scallop Farm plans to raise scallops with projections of 150,000 to 200,000 scallops per year. The scallops would be raised in stacked plastic cages made for the purpose. Sweenie noted that he would also raise oysters "as a hedge." He would harvest three‑year scallops for the meat only. The oysters would be raised in bags and on the bottom. In addition Sweenie would apply for a license to collect scallop spat, most likely in the West Quoddy Head area.
     Sweenie told the group that he chose the site because of its previous history as a five‑acre scallop farm run by Tom Pottle a number of years ago. He had thought that because of its past aquaculture lease history, and what he suggested was a less productive ground for scallops, there would be less opposition to a new farm in the same area. However, DMR Policy Development Specialist Chris Vonderweidt, on hand to record comments and answer process questions, noted that the DMR "will look at it as a fresh site" and the application will "still have to go through all the steps." At the moment, he said, the DMR has a two‑year back‑log of applications. If Sweenie submits his application, the process will start, which includes a public hearing and the ability of some interested parties to sign on as intervenors. However, Vonderweidt said he was not comfortable discussing what the two‑year back‑log might mean for Sweenie's application timeline.
     Seven fishermen present noted their strong opposition to the project. Eastport resident and fisherman Scott Emery said, "I disagree with this. Families depend on that bay. I can't go along with 12 acres." Stating what others also feared, he added that if the farm were successful more farms would apply for leases, thus adding to the already reduced acreage of allowable fishing areas. Others present noted the acreage lost to other aquaculture farms and tidal energy projects. The bay is "getting choked," said Pembroke fisherman Brian Moore. Vonderweidt explained that each application is evaluated independently on its own right.
     Fisherman Howard Calder was most vocal in his opposition to the farm's site, saying repeatedly that he had fished the bay for 30 years and was "going to fight for it." It wasn't personal, he explained, but rather Cobscook Bay is the "best wild scallop bay on the coast of Maine. Why would you want to take prime scallop bottom?" he asked, rather than drag it. Sweenie has been fishing for 30 years, has a dragger and has dragged the bay alongside many of the fishermen who were present at the meeting.
     To Calder's question, Sweenie replied that the year‑round opportunity of a scallop farm could offset the limited harvesting days of the wild scallop fishery. "Dragging is not guaranteed," he said. In addition aquaculture products such as scallops are not subject to size limits. If only the meat is harvested then many of the harvest problems associated with red tide contamination are also eliminated.
     Pembroke businessman Tim Sheehan was the lone voice in favor of the proposed farm, explaining that he could see the branding and marketing benefit of a year‑round Cobscook Bay scallop that could also help the wild scallop fishery. "If you can build a brand then you can command a price" that could stay consistently high, he suggested.
     A number of those present abstained from commenting for or against the farm proposal. Redington Island owner Charlie Earley said that he could see both sides of the issue. As an experiment to prove whether or not scallop aquaculture was a viable proposition he thought it might be worth "sacrificing some bottom."

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