Mere Point Oyster Co.’s Derek Devereaux dumps a tote of oysters for sizing in August. John Ewing / Portland Press Herald

BRUNSWICK — The Department of Marine Resources approved the controversial expansion of Maquoit Bay’s Mere Point Oyster Co. Thursday, ending more than a year’s worth of debate and waiting over the 40-acre farm.

The new lease is expected to increase the company’s operating space by nearly 160 times, from roughly ¼-acre of Limited Purpose Aquaculture sites to about 40 acres of professional oyster harvesting, of which 12 acres are designated as navigable corridors. The company’s annual harvest would increase from 60,000 last year to 1.5 million in the next three years, with as many as 5 million oysters in the water at a given time.

Co-owners Dan Devereaux and Doug Niven are pleased with “rational decision” from the department, Devereaux said, but despite their relief at what they see as a positive conclusion to a lengthy process, “our personal journey is far from over.”

“We have to maintain our sense of being good stewards to the ocean and good neighbors to the neighbors … . We want to continue being the representatives of aquaculture that we envision ourselves to be,” he said, adding, “I think we will be scrutinized for a time to come.”

Mere Point Oyster Co. oysters. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

A marathon hearing on Mere Point Oyster Co.’s proposed 10-year lease started in November 2018 and wrapped up in mid-January. Waterfront property owners and lobster fishermen spoke out against what they saw as conflicting uses of the bay and the potential infringement on valuable lobstering grounds.

Two groups opposed to the expansion were granted limited intervenor status: One is a group of lobster fishermen, and the other a group of Brunswick residents, largely from Mere Point, known as both the Maquoit Bay Preservation Group and the Concerned Citizens of Maquoit Bay.

During the hearings, many witnesses expressed concern for lobstermen who previously testified that the lease would infringe upon valuable fishing grounds and result in a loss of revenue, though the department found that lobster sightings were rare during the site scoping session.

The department had 120 days to make a ruling, but according to Jeff Nichols, director of communications for the department of marine resources, it was a “more complicated lease application than normal.” 

In late September, officials issued a draft approval which dismissed many of the intervenor’s concerns, including that the lease would interfere with lobstering grounds, negatively impact eelgrass beds, prevent navigation and recreation and result in too much noise. They also found no conflict of interest with Devereaux, who is harbormaster and a former marine resources officer, because other town officials reviewed the material.

The Mere Point decision, a “precedent-setting case for Maine,” will be appealed in court, said Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for the Concerned Citizens of Maquoit Bay. 

The opposition met the “unreasonable interference criteria to have this application denied,” she said in a written statement, “but DMR favored aquaculture at the expense of the traditional fisheries.”

Canney also said that despite significant concerns, the department ignored the permitting rules (a process she called “severely broken”) and the will of the people in favor of “a wealthy aquaculture investor and Brunswick’s Harbormaster who has serious conflicts of interest in the project.” 

Peter Vaughn, a member of Mere Point Preservation Group, said he was “disappointed” in the decision, “which essentially gives exclusive access to acres of ocean to those who will profit by their use or sale, while keeping away those who fish, boat, or just live beside those waters.”

He and others will continue to oppose the decision, he added. 

Devereaux though, said he thinks the decision “is good for aquaculture and good for Maine.” 

The approval is “encouraging,” he said, and while it took a long time (almost two years since the time they submitted their application), the case supports how well-vetted the process is.

“The DMR is looking at every aspect and every angle,” he said. “People need to respect that process.” 

He hopes the opposition will rethink their decision to appeal, but feels Mere Point Oyster Co. stands a good chance, especially given how much time and effort has been invested in making sure their application was sound. 

Mere Point Oyster Co. will continue harvesting over the winter, but will not move gear to the expanded site until the spring. Once they are settled, Devereaux thinks people will realize the site, which was labeled a “factory” by opponents during the hearings, is not that different from the Limited Purpose Aquaculture sites they already have.

“Change is hard, it happens over time, not overnight,” he said. “We’re excited and ready to go… I’m sure there will still be some sleepless nights… but we’re not going away.” 

 


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