Talk of commercial halibut farm in Boothbay creates controversy

A group of Boothbay-area residents who have formed an organization called Friends of Linekin Bay is opposing a proposed commercial halibut farm in Linekin Bay.
Friends of Linekin Bay
A group of Boothbay-area residents who have formed an organization called Friends of Linekin Bay is opposing a proposed commercial halibut farm in Linekin Bay.
Posted July 10, 2012, at 9:16 p.m.

BOOTHBAY, Maine — A man’s bid to build a commercial halibut farm in Linekin Bay has prompted the creation of a local group who is lobbying against the idea, even before it has had a chance to get off the ground.

While the group has voiced a long list of concerns, the president of the Maine Aquaculture Association said there are vast pockets of people who in general support having Maine follow examples from around the world of using aquaculture as a way to preserve working waterfronts and marine-related jobs, as stocks of natural fish species have declined steadily.

Sewall Maddocks Jr. has yet to file any official permit applications, according to Maine Department of Marine Resources, but held a public exploratory scoping session in March. Diantha Robinson, an aquaculture administrator and DMR hearing officer, said Maddocks, who wants to grow halibut in the fish farm, has indicated he is interested in leasing a 27-acre portion of Linekin Bay for up to 10 years, but that he needs permits from Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before proceeding.

Maddocks, who on Friday declined to discuss his project with the Bangor Daily News, already is facing local opposition. Mark Osborn of Boothbay Harbor, whose home faces the proposed site of the fish farm, said he and others have formed a group called Friends of Linekin Bay in opposition to the project. Other members of the new group’s board of directors, according to Osborn, are Daniel Lerner, Robert Frazier, Melanie Howe, Michael Brewer and Martha Clayter.

“As soon as we found out about this fish farm at the scoping session in March, we circulated a petition and gathered more than 200 signatures,” said Osborn. “There are visual issues, navigational issues, fishing issues, public swimming areas … and there are environmental issues. It’s a fairly shallow bay.”

Among the group’s concerns is whether the 65-foot-deep water, combined with a low rate of water flowing in and out of the bay, can accommodate the introduction of vast amounts of fish feed and droppings.

In addition to the petition, which Osborn said will be given to the departments of marine resources and environmental protection if the project moves forward, Friends of Linekin Bay has developed a white paper against the project, and circulated a press release to media organizations pointing out its members’ concerns.

“This experiment will be conducted in a fishing and tourist area extremely important to the local and state economy,” reads a press release sent around in late June. “The environmental implications of the fish farm could devastate the fishing industry in Linekin Bay and severely impact swimming and other water activity and present a hazard to navigation.” The group called the project “experimental.”

Mike Brewer, a herring fisherman in the area, said in the press release there is no room in Linekin Bay for a fish farm of this scope.

“Fishing families have been making a living here for generations,” said Brewer. “We can’t afford to risk people’s livelihoods on an experiment.”

Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, said Monday the group may be getting ahead of the process since Maddocks, who Belle knows through Maddocks’ involvement in a training session with the association called Cod Academy, hasn’t decided on the scope or specific design of his project. Furthermore, Belle said Maddocks is trying to continue a family tradition of working on the waterfront in the Boothbay area that dates back six generations.

“Sewall held that public meeting as a way to put a couple of ideas out there and see what the reaction was,” said Belle. “That may be where some of this confusion comes from. My read from the outside was that Sewall was seeking engagement from the community folks. I felt that support for the project in that room was equal to the opposition.”

Maddocks said that though aquaculture activities in Maine ranks perennially in the top three states in the country — along with Hawaii and Washington — it is tiny compared to what’s happening in other countries in the world, including Canada, Norway and Scotland. He said the approximately 100 fish farms along the Maine coast, which occupy a total of about 1,300 acres, produce about 15 different species of fish and shellfish worth between $80 million and $100 million per year. By comparison, he said fish farms in New Brunswick produce about $250 million worth of product per year and the Maine lobster industry produces about $300 million. And in the country of Norway, there are at least 4,000 commercial fish farms.

“If you fly a plane along the coast of Norway, you’d see a fish farm on virtually every area of the coast,” said Belle. “If you got in a boat on the coast of Maine, you’d probably never see any fish farms. They’re relatively small.”

Belle said Maine and other states would be served well by taking advantage of the natural resources at their disposal, in this case the ocean.

“What we’re really witnessing here is a clash between folks who have moved to Maine with fairly deep pockets versus local folks,” he said. “This is about our working waterfront and making a living on the water. Working waterfronts are not necessarily always the most beautiful things to look at, but they are part of Maine’s history and character.”

Osborn said part of his group’s goal is to make sure people have accurate information in the event the project moves forward.

“Our No. 1 goal is to get educated about what this operation would entail and what the possible outcome will be,” he said. “If there are any negative fallouts from this environmentally, it could affect tourism drastically, which would affect us all. I feel strongly that before anyone comes to a conclusion either way, either for or against it, they really should learn what this could mean.”

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