BRUNSWICK — With the debate over a large-scale proposed oyster farm looming in the background, aquaculture experts pitched the benefits of oyster farming to Brunswick residents during a forum Thursday.

Though the event didn’t address any specific aquaculture farms, the specter of an application for a 40-acre lease in Maquoit Bay off Mere Point loomed over the evening’s presentations.

Mere Point Oyster Co., which proposed the operation, has downplayed concerns about the size of the farm.

Members of the Maquoit Bay Preservation Group, mostly residents of Mere Point who oppose the development, have been unswayed. Before Thursday’s presentation, the group was handing out fliers calling the proposal a “floating factory.”

But the presenters ignored dispute between the group and the company Thursday, opting instead to discuss the benefits of aquaculture in Maine generally.

“Aquaculture is a business. They’re trying to make a profit,” said Meridith White, director of research and development at Mook Sea Farm. “But they’re also producing a sustainable protein source. Shellfish aquaculture is probably the most sustainable animal protein source available.”

White went on to praise the oyster’s natural ability to remove phytoplankton and nitrogen from the ocean.

“The oyster filtering phytoplankton out of the water is one of their greatest ecosystem services,” she said. “One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day.”

Chris Vonderweidt, of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, said that beyond positive environmental effects, oysters could be an economic boon for Maine. With lobster landings expected to decline in the coming years and groundfish landings already far lower than in the past, oyster aquaculture offers potential for growth. On top of that, there is a massive demand for Maine oysters, according to a market analysis the institute had done.

“The Maine oyster is the gold standard oyster in the U.S. marketplace,” said Vonderweidt. “It’s the most expensive. It’s considered the highest quality by chefs and restaurateurs. It’s considered to be premium.”

It’s unclear whether the experts’ views on oyster aquaculture will hold sway with opponents in the Maquoit Bay debate. According to the flyers distributed Thursday, the Maquoit Bay Preservation Group opposes any aquaculture project larger than 2 acres and calls for all processing to be done on land zoned for commercial business. At the moment, there seems to be little middle ground between the owners’ desire for a larger, more condensed operation on the bay and the opposition of residents.

The likely clash between the two sides had been scheduled for an Oct. 18 public hearing held by the Department of Marine Resources. Following public opposition, however, the department has canceled that hearing and is rescheduling it for a location with a larger seating area. The department has not posted a new date for the public hearing.


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