BRUNSWICK — Two weeks past the original 120-day deadline, the timeline for when Mere Point Oyster Co. and its opponents can expect the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ decision on a proposed oyster farm expansion on Maquoit Bay remains murky.

A marathon three-day hearing over Mere Point Oyster Company’s proposed 10-year, 40-acre lease wrapped up in mid-January after waterfront property owners and lobster fishermen spoke out against what they saw as conflicting uses of the bay and the potential incursion on valuable lobstering grounds. The department had 120 days to make a ruling, which would have put the deadline at May 15, but according to Jeff Nichols, communications director of the department of marine resources, “depending on the complexity of the application and the evidence, it may take longer.”

The decision will likely not come before June 1, at which point public comment closes on a petition submitted by an opposition group known as Save Maquoit Bay. The group includes many of the same lobstermen who spoke against the lease site this winter as well as others from communities along Maine’s coast, and is asking the department to change its lease approval criteriaThe 189 signature petition asks officials to include a stipulation requiring the department to consider whether there are any other locations near a proposed lease site that could “accommodate the proposed activities while interfering less with existing and surrounding uses of an area.”

According to the request, the changes would allow the department to “review all aquaculture projects with a critical eye to what it means to all who use and make their living on the water.” They urged the department to “revise the outdated lease criteria and take a more holistic approach to the future of Maine’s Coastline.”

A May 22 hearing on the rule changes was well attended, Nichols said.

We support aquaculture when it is good for all parties,” said Paul Dioli, a member of Save Maquoit Bay. “With more and more aquaculture leases flooding in, the challenge is to build an aquaculture industry that coexists and does not compete with lobstering. Lobstermen we have talked to around the state are concerned their industry is being overlooked and hurt economically,” he said in a news release.

But according to Dan Devereaux, co-owner of Mere Point Oyster Co. and Brunswick harbor master, the proposed rule changes would only “handicap the aquaculture industry moving forward” and is a disservice not just to the industry, but to coastal Maine and the working waterfront, he said in an earlier interview.

Requiring the Department of Marine Resources look into alternate locations for sites would only “pump the brakes on a system that is already going slower than it should,” he added.

The group asked for an immediate moratorium on all pending lease applications greater than 10 acres and requested the proposed rule be applied retroactively so it would still apply retroactively to the application in Maquoit Bay.

The department will make a decision on the petitioned changes “as soon as possible after the June 1 deadline,” Nichols said.

Whether it will ultimately have any bearing on Mere Point Oyster Co.’s application is “too early to tell,” he added.

This story has been updated to reflect that lobstermen from across Maine signed the petition delivered to the Department of Marine Resources. 

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