MACHIAS, Maine — The Navy’s plans to run a power cable under Machias Bay to bring electricity to its communications station in Cutler has caused area scallop fishermen to be apprehensive.
There is a possibility that fishermen may be restricted from dragging gear along the bottom of the bay in the vicinity of the cable in search of scallops or urchins.
“It’s a big concern to the fisherman,” Michael Murphy II, chairman of the Machiasport Board of Selectmen, said of the plans.
The issue on restrictions, however, isn’t clear.
Murphy, a scallop fisherman, said Wednesday that fishermen are restricted by state law or regulation from dragging gear within 300 feet of underwater cables.
But Deirdre Gilbert, director of marine policy for Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, said there is no minimum setback per se in state law or regulation.
“It’s not based on a certain number of feet,” she said.
Instead, such a determination would be made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in consultation with the Navy, according to Gilbert. If a designated cable area by NOAA is marked accordingly on marine charts, dragging would be prohibited in the vicinity of the cable, Gilbert noted.
The Navy may not seek such a designation since the cable will be buried 3-5 feet below the ocean floor.
“We’ve been kind of talking about that,” said Tom Kreidel, a spokesman for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Norfolk, Va. He has been in the Machias area in conjunction with a Wednesday open house event the Navy is hosting in town to present information and hear feedback about its potential plans.
“Bottom line is, we’re working to make the most minimal impact on fishing that we can,” Kreidel said.
He was unable to say whether the Navy would request to have NOAA make the cable area designation but indicated that other Navy officials at the open house might be able to clarify the issue.
The communications station — once the most powerful in the world — currently is powered by diesel generators. The Navy wants to run the cable 6.5 miles under Machias Bay in 2015 and connect to the Bangor Hydro Electric substation in Bucks Harbor. After connecting to the Bangor Hydro grid, it would use the diesel generators as a backup power source.
Navy officials met Tuesday with employees of the Cutler station and also held a meeting with representatives from five towns in the area.
Murphy said that Navy officials don’t seem to have a problem with scallop fishing near the cable.
He also said that Machias Bay has one of the best scallop fisheries in the state after Cobscook Bay, and there are almost two dozen scallop fishing boats based in the Machiasport area.
The cable would straddle two scallop management areas in Machias Bay, explained Trisha De Graaf, DMR’s resource management coordinator for scallops.
“Essentially, when the cable goes in, part of it will be in an open area and part of it will be in a closed area in any given year,” she said.
A 2011 DMR survey estimated Machias Bay had 80,000 pounds of harvestable scallops, according to De Graaf.
“It’s a major scalloping ground for the fleet,” she said.
Maine licenses about 665 scallop fishermen, including about 100 divers. The fisherman landed 2.4 million pounds of scallops in 2012 with a value of $3.2 million.