May 26, 2020
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Proposal to protect Acadia’s waters faces resistance

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — In keeping with a federal effort to improve the way marine resources are managed and protected, park officials are considering whether the waters off the park should be added to a national list of marine protected areas.

But some officials with towns in the vicinity of Mount Desert Island, where fishing plays an important role in the region’s economy, aren’t so sure that’s a good idea.

Len Bobinchock, deputy superintendent of Acadia, said Tuesday that Acadia’s consideration of establishing such an area off MDI stems from an executive order signed by President Clinton in 2000, which calls for a more comprehensive approach to the protection and conservation of marine resources. If the waters off MDI, where most of the park is located, were added to the national list of marine protected areas, it would give the park a formal mechanism by which it could keep track of nearby marine activities, Bobinchock said.

Selectmen with the town of Swan’s Island, a fishing community off MDI with roughly 350 year-round residents, don’t like the idea. In a letter they sent Tuesday to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, selectmen said there are already adequate marine protections in the waters off Acadia.

“Swan’s Island is first and foremost a fishing town,” the selectmen wrote in the letter. “We believe that another layer of bureaucracy, however benignly intended, amounts to another nail in the coffin of commercial fishing.”

The letter is signed by Selectmen Myron Sprague, Nancy Carter and Dexter Lee.

Bobinchock said the proposal would not give the park any controlling jurisdiction in the waters directly off its coastline. All it would do, he said, is give the park a systematic way to share information with entities that do have jurisdiction in the coastal waters off the park, such as the Coast Guard, the Maine Department of Ma-rine Resources, or the National Marine Fisheries Service. There is now no formal mechanism for sharing such information, he said.

“This doesn’t add any new regulations,” Bobinchock said. “Acadia really is an archipelago. We’re very sensitive to our neighbors and the concerns that they have.”

With the designation, Bobinchock said, the park usually would be on the receiving end of the resulting information exchange.

For example, if there were an oil spill off Mount Desert Island, he said, the park would not be in a position to take any action against who or what might be responsible. That would be up to other governmental agencies. But such a spill likely would affect the park’s shoreline, he said, and the protected-area designation would give the park formal standing in the overall response to the spill.

Bobinchock discussed the idea Tuesday with members of the MDI League of Towns, which meets once a month so municipal officials from the area can discuss topics of shared interest and ways they might collaborate. He said the concept is expected to be discussed further by the park’s advisory commission, which is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Friday at Acadia park headquarters on MDI.

Most officials at the MDI League of Towns meeting indicated that because they were unsure what the designation might specifically entail, they were not prepared to form an opinion on it. As a result, most officials at the meeting voted not to take a position on the proposal.

“Without a definite description of what the advantages are for the park and everyone else, it makes it difficult [to weigh in on the issue],” said Mount Desert Town Manager Michael MacDonald.

But Millard Billings, town manager for Tremont, told his colleagues he was opposed to the league not taking a formal position on the concept. He said he was concerned the National Park Service might want to have such an area “revert to its natural state,” as it has done in Yellowstone National Park by letting some forest fires burn, or by not allowing certain activities.

“That’s contrary to our commercial fisheries,” Billings said, adding that many Tremont residents earn their living from fishing. “It’s another layer of bureaucracy we don’t need.”

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