YORK COUNTY  — A group of citizens who have been working to ensure continued access to Maine’s oceans has formed a new coalition Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage.

The group has been active in advocating for lobstermen who are losing acres of fishing grounds to aquaculture leases in some parts of the state.  The organization also supports Maine residents who are concerned about losing access to the ocean for recreational usage.

Currently, the Department of Marine Resources grants 99 percent of all licenses and leases for aquaculture in Maine waters.

Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage will be proposing legislation to address the following:

• Anyone including residents, out of state residents, businesses and corporations can own 1,000 acres of the ocean in 100-acre increments.

• Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage believes DMR needs a better siting process that looks for the least impactful site location.

• Aquaculture leases can be transferred without the benefit of a public hearing to individuals, businesses or out of state corporations.

• Aquaculture leases can be held for 20 years for the sole use of one person, business or corporation.

“We need to protect the lobstering industry, said group spokesperson Crystal Canney. “This has been an incredibly difficult summer and you can add aquaculture as the next threat to an industry already under fire. Licenses and leases are approved almost 100 percent of the time despite public outcry, testimony from lobstermen, fishermen and those who live near and recreate on the water.”

Canney said that the group is asking for the help of Maine legislators to take a harder look at what has happened in the last few years around extensive aquaculture growth, increased lease size, longer terms and the ability to transfer leases without a public hearing.

“We want to co-exist not compete with the aquaculture industry but we will never believe trading lobster jobs for aquaculture jobs is good for the state of Maine,” Canney said.  “The economics just don’t bear it out. Maine’s landings value for lobster are  close to 500 million and the total for aquaculture including farm raised salmon is $71 million. That is not economic development. We need sensible legislation so both can co-exist and that is not what we have in Maine right now.”

Earlier this year, concerned citizens around the state expressed a desire to take action regarding lease size among other rules changes with a citizen’s petition. The Department of Marine Resources denied the citizens’ petition.

Nationally, in-water aquaculture is a serious topic of conversation and leaders are asking the same questions. namely how do we do it right to protect the ocean? Recently in North Carolina the legislature approved a test pilot that included experimental sites of 50 acres in designated zones in order to avoid some of the issues we are seeing in Maine. Again, in Maine, you can lease up to 1,000 acres of the ocean per person, business or corporation.

“The stories we hear from lobstermen and people who are impacted by leases are the same,” Canney said. “They attend hearings but regardless of input the majority of leases are granted anyway. While DMR may be following the laws on the books it’s clear there needs to be a change. We are prepared to help move that forward.”

To find the group on social media, go toFacebook.com/protectmainesfishingheritage or on Instagram @ProtectMaine and Twitter @maine_protect.

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