The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has two key issues to weigh as it considers the Mere Point Oyster Company (MPOC) lease application—brokering a symbiosis between existing and future fisheries, and promoting sustained marine fisheries that keep Mainers employed.

Before I detail my opinion, let me share my perspective—one which very much shapes my views. I am a long-term Brunswick resident and a current Limited Purpose Aquaculture (LPA) lease holder in nearby waters. I am not growing oysters, but my ability to get started with my LPA has been greatly enhanced by generous logistical support by Dan Devereaux and Doug Niven, proprietors of Mere Point Oyster Co. Dan is a long-time acquaintance of mine. I served on Brunswick’s Marine Resources Committee for several years.

Before readers dismiss me as having too strong a bias to understand the concerns of shoreline abutters, let me say that I am fortunate to be a fourth-generation waterfront owner in Phippsburg. My family’s property is surrounded by prime lobster habitat and adjacent to an active commercial wharf. I believe I understand that industry as well as any lay-person might. My family is blessed to have Phippsburg fishing families as friends and neighbors. Call me a YIMFY – Yes In My Front Yard! I know the 5 a.m. diesel engines and shouted banter between harvesters, the smell of drying gear and the stench of old bait. These are the sounds and smells of an industry that has been vital to our local economy and to the livelihoods of many, and I am proud to support it by sharing my piece of the coast with my harvester friends.

I am also a career high school science teacher, having worked in Wiscasset for more than 30 years. I have dedicated myself to helping young people grow and mature and find opportunities for post-secondary study and/or satisfying careers. I understand the challenges and the obstacles they face, especially if they wish to stay in their home community.

The conflict between lobster harvest and formal aquaculture leases is a key issue that DMR must resolve as it assesses lease applications, in Maquoit Bay and elsewhere. Lobster harvesters have had de facto bottom leases for generations, and now fisheries managers must figure out how the bottom can be shared equitably and fairly. A key to this calculation is determining which habitats are optimal for each of these competing industries. If DMR determines that the lease site is indeed valuable lobster habitat, perhaps the solution is as simple as expanding the lease footprint and mandating that in-holdings be made available to lobster harvesters when they might be fishing there in the summer, while the oysters are on the surface.

Lobstering is threatened by factors far bigger than aquaculture leases. We are losing productive Gulf of Maine lobster habitat to warming waters and acidification. Over the duration of my career I can count on two hands the number of young women and men I have taught who have gone on to work as lobster harvesters. The industry is, effectively, a closed club. We live in a coastal community, and aside from cooking and serving seafood, kids do not see a future for themselves in marine food industries. Will this change as we open up new opportunities through aquaculture? Maine is making a concerted effort to recruit young people to “live and work in Maine.” MPOC has been employing young people since its inception. They are a model for marine resources economic development that is accessible to young Mainers.

We no longer see the trawlers offloading groundfish at the wharf in Phippsburg. Sadly, we may soon see a decline in lobster landings. Let’s continue to be good stewards of that fishery while at the same time promoting and maximizing new fishing opportunities.

Ralph Keyes lives in Brunswick.

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