Derek Devereaux flips an oyster cage to make sure one side does not get too much debris built up. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

HARPSWELL — At a time when much of the discussion over aquaculture is absorbed in contentious debate over a proposed 40-acre oyster farm in Maquoit Bay, the Holbrook Community Foundation in Harpswell is looking to help local officials and residents learn more about the aquaculture farms that already exist in their communities.

The Holbrook Community Foundation was recently awarded a grant that will allow it to offer three boat tours of aquaculture in the New Meadows River, where several oyster farms are already operating.

According to Holbrook Community Foundation Vice President Deirdre Strachan, the nonprofit is hoping to spark conversation about local aquaculture by bringing government officials up close to the farms operating along the New Meadows River. The primary aquaculture product grown along the New Meadows River is oysters, although rockweed is occasionally harvested in the area as well. Strachan said oyster aquaculture is a new and growing phenomenon in the area, one that many people don’t have a strong understanding of.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do is provide education to the community about issues related to the working waterfront, and one of the most recent issues that people at least along the New Meadows River are talking about is the aquaculture that’s being done there,” said Strachan.

The Holbrook Community Foundation was launched in 2005 to purchase the Holbrook Wharf and support Harpswell’s working waterfront, a community that has grown to include aquaculture farmers.

The Holbrook Community Foundation will host three aquaculture tours. The first two will be on a boat named the Pamela B, while the third tour will be in kayaks.

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The first tour will target town officials and “community influencers” from Harpswell, Brunswick, West Bath and Phippsburg. A Holbrook Community Foundation volunteer will lead the tour, which will visit aquaculture sites where the tourists can talk to growers and each other.

The second and third tours will be for Holbrook Community Foundation supporters, especially those living on or near the New Meadows River. Supporters can choose to either take a trip on the Pamela B to visit grow sites or take a guided kayak tour to visit grow sites. Strachan said that the main goal of the tours is to educate the community and spark conversations between participants about the value aquaculture can bring to the area.

“Our goal is to get them talking with each other and with the people who actually do the oyster farming to find out about the process and appreciate what it does for fisheries along the New Meadows River,” said Strachan.

All of the tours will be free to participants.

The tours are made possible through a $2,100 grant from the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership out of Portland. The Holbrook Community Foundation will chip in $650 toward the project, and they’ll receive $400 worth of fresh oysters from the aquaculture community for tasting.

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