BRUNSWICK — I am a Brunswick resident with a house on Mere Point and a background in marine science and policy. I regularly write about marine issues for several local publications and serve on Brunswick’s Marine Resource Committee. I have worked closely with the owners of Mere Point Oyster Co. and I respect their intentions to develop a sustainable business, but I do not support their application to place a 40-acre farm in Maquoit Bay.

Doug Niven, one of the owners of The Mere Point Oyster Co., designed this oyster tumbler that would be located at their proposed 40-acre oyster farm on Maquoit Bay.

Yes, I am an adjacent property owner, but my concerns about this project are broader. The decision made on this project stands to affect all waterfront communities in Maine.

I chose to come to Maine for college, and I chose to move back here with my husband after several years overseas with the Navy. It is the unique and complex character of Maine’s coastal communities that drew us back. Mere Point Oyster Co.’s proposed shellfish farm has the potential to drastically alter the character of one of Maine’s coastal communities without the support of those who live, work and recreate on it every day.

Maine’s working waterfront is valuable not only to those who live there, but also to the entire state. Maine’s largest fishery, lobstering, is worth over $500 million and employs over 10,000 fishermen. Tourism, one of the largest industries in the state, brings in $6 billion annually, an estimated 70 percent of which is spent along the coast. A 40-acre farm would restrict traditional fishing activities and cover the surface of the water with an extensive array of large black plastic floats. These are significant impacts. This is why it is vitally important that communities have a legitimate hand in guiding their own future and why I am so perplexed by the state’s aquaculture leasing process.

Aquaculture offers an exciting and environmentally sustainable opportunity for Maine. But if the aim of this emerging industry is to enhance our waterfront communities, how can such projects move forward without the support of those very communities?

Shellfish aquaculture leases do not require approval from the municipality where the project will be located. Approval for proposals such as that of Mere Point Oyster Co. comes from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, a state-level agency. As a member of Brunswick’s Marine Resources Committee, I was surprised that our town does not have a vote regarding what happens along our coasts. My previous experience in ocean planning and fishery management has taught me the value of gathering input from all affected parties, no matter how tedious and contentious it may be.

Mere Point Oyster’s plans to rapidly and drastically expand operations were not openly shared with residents and waterfront users until the process was well underway. They propose to expand from several small lease areas, each less than an acre, to a commercial-sized 40-acre lease, increasing operations by 25 percent by 2021 to produce more than 1.5 million oysters each year, aiming to reach 5 million oysters within 10 years. The proposed scale of the company’s operations on Maquoit Bay is out of sync with the scale and character of the bay and its residents and users.

Brunswick is one of Maine’s largest towns with a population of over 20,000 and nearly 70 miles of coastline used by many for work and recreation. This project is the first of its kind to be proposed in such a heavily used area. It stands to set an example for how aquaculture could be developed in other coastal Maine communities. There are broader implications of what is at stake for all coastal communities as we look at aquaculture as a growing sector. Waterfront users in other communities witnessing the progress of this project ought to be alarmed at the thought of similar projects moving forward in their communities.

I believe in the benefits of a working waterfront, and I believe in the benefits of aquaculture. But the path to a thriving waterfront should include community buy-in and measured, considered development. The Department of Marine Resources should require official municipal approval and ensure that all those affected by proposed developments have a hand in the decision-making process.


Comments are not available on this story.