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October 22, 2018

State rejects Kittery's request to delay decision on oyster farm expansion

Photo / Pixabay
Photo / Pixabay
Oyster farming is attracting newcomers, especially commercial fishermen who are attracted to the supplemental income. The latest example is the proposed expansion of an oyster farming operation in Kittery by Spinney Creek Shellfish of Eliot.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources denied a request by the town of Kittery to delay its decision on a proposed expansion of an oyster farming operation by Spinney Creek Shellfish of Eliot.

Seacoastonline.com reported the town's request was prompted by a group called Friends of Spinney Creek. According to the group's posts on www.ourkittery.com, the group petitioned that Spinney Creek's lease application be denied, as currently written, due to Spinney Creek's status as an area of ecological significance and conservation efforts, as designated by Eliot residents.

The group also cited potential risks to safety and navigation, reduction in the quality of life for the community, additional noise from the expanded operation and decline in property tax values as scenic vistas are obstructed and waterway access diminished.

Describing the project size as "out of scope for this small and unique body of water," the petition said, noting that the proposed oyster farm is roughly the length of three football fields and would have roughly 800 cages with double floats for each cage.

In a related post, the group wrote that, furthermore, three years from when the lease period is over, the shellfish company will be eligible to apply for a standard commercial license, lasting as long as 20 years and occupying as much as 100 acres.

Kittery questions DMR denial

The DMR held a public hearing on the application on Sept. 27.

In response to the DMR's denial of the postponement request, Town Manager Kendra Amaral subsequently wrote to the DMR that "the hearing's restrictive format and scope, and the late hour at which the public testimony phase began, left our residents feeling disenfranchised from the process," seacoastonline.com reported.

Kittery resident Norm LeMoine, who lives on Spinney Creek, told seacoastonline.com, "We have 60-plus property owners here on the creek who are still very concerned."

Project to test commercial viability

According to the application, the company owned by Tom and Lori Howell has a long history with shellfish farming in Spinney Creek dating back to 1980s and 1990s, when it grew quahogs and American oysters as well as European oysters.

But those projects were unsuccessful and Howells discontinued their farming efforts. Then, in late 2010, the company participated in a technology transfer trip to look at new aquaculture gear developed by the Canadians called Oyster Ranch gear. In 2015, the company began some small-scale farming on "limited purpose aquaculture" licenses in Spinney Creek, using the new gear, and expanded the project over the next few years to 12 limited purpose licenses.

The experimental lease license, if approved, would replace the limited purpose licenses.

"The project will determine the economic feasibility of growing shellfish on a commercial scale within Spinney Creek," the application says.

The plan is to plant 500,000 oysters and farm them in floating gear. The proposed location is on the Kittery side of the creek.

Oyster farm expansion opposed in Brunswick

In September, an application by Mere Point Oyster Co. in Brunswick for a 40-acre oyster farm in Maquoit Bay raised concerns among nearby residents.

"This is a factory going up on the water," Paul Dioli, a member of the Maquoit Bay Preservation Group, told The Times Record. But Mere Point Oyster co-owner Dan Devereaux said 40 acres is only a tiny fraction of the bay's 3,000 acres and noted that oysters, as filter-feeders, help clean the bay.

Oysters are one of Maine's top three farmed species (along with Atlantic salmon and blue mussels), according to the 2017 Maine Aquaculture Economic Impact Report, published by the University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute. Maine has 65 to 80 oyster farms. Still, although Maine's oyster industry is growing, it's relatively small, Dana Morse, an extension associate with Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension, told Mainebiz in 2017. Massachusetts, for example, has about 350 distinct oyster farming companies.

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