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September 25, 2018

Size of proposed oyster farm draws opposition

An application by Mere Point Oyster Co., in Brunswick, for a 40-acre oyster farm in Maquoit Bay has 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.

 Mere Point co-owner Dan Devereaux said 40 acres is only a tiny fraction of the bay’s 3,000 acres and, as filter-feeders, oysters help clean the bay.

Mere Point’s application is in line with Maine’s growing aquaculture industry. 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.

Department of Marine Resources data illustrate harvest growth: from 2 million oysters in 2005, worth $848,338, to 8.8 million in 2016, worth $5.9 million. Production has long catered to the high-end market but new mid-market seafood shacks are popping up in recent years. Most of Maine's production centers on the Damariscotta, but the geographic scope has been expanding to places like Casco Bay, the Bagaduce River and Frenchman Bay.

According to Mere Point’s website, Devereaux and Doug Niven started the company in 2015, with farm sites on Maquoit and Mere Point bays. They started with 10,000 oysters the first year, added another 10,000 in 2016 and added another 250,000 oysters in 2017, selling to local inns, restaurants and markets. “As the oyster crop continues to grow, they hope to expand to more restaurants and markets,” the post says. “And, they will be experimenting with growing other types of shellfish including mussels and scallops.”

The Maine Department of Marine Resources, which oversees Maine’s aquaculture industry, will hold a public hearing on the application, for a 40-acre, 10-year standard aquaculture lease on a site located south of Bunganuc Rock and west of Mere Point Peninsula in Maquoit Bay, Brunswick, for suspended culture of American/Eastern oysters, European oysters, bay scallops, sea scallops, and quahogs. The hearing will be held Oct. 18, 6 p.m. at Brunswick Town Hall.

The Maquoit Bay Preservation Group, in a post on its Facebook  page, says the scale of the proposal doesn’t fit the bay’s character, could pollute the bay, and could be a source of noise pollution, unpleasant odors and navigational obstacles. The group also contends the company has a conflict of interest, because Devereux is also marine warden for the Brunswick Police Department.

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