As president of the Maine Lobstering Union, I know we have struggled with several concerns this summer from right whales to bait shortages to aquaculture leases. We need to take steps now to fix rules and regulations around aquaculture. If we don’t, it will encroach on ocean space for everyone.
The lease sizes have gotten so large we are making Maine’s oceans attractive to out-of-state corporations. A corporation, business or individual can own 1,000 acres of the ocean, and that’s a significant amount of space. The leases can now be held for 20 years and they can be transferred without a mandatory public hearing.
It’s time to make sure the rules and regulations are in place, so we aren’t losing our lobstering industry. The political winds are always looking for the shiny new object. Right now it’s aquaculture.
We want to co-exist rather than compete, and we speak from a position of economic strength. The value of 2018 lobster landings are close to $500 million. Comparatively, aquaculture harvesting including farm raised salmon was $72 million.
There is absolutely room for both lobstering and aquaculture with some changes. We are asking our elected leaders to make rules and regulations changes that won’t infringe on Maine’s most iconic brand — the lobster.
As a fifth-generation lobsterman from Jonesport, the waters of Hardwood Island, Mud Hole and Eastern Bay are waters I know well. The area is rich lobstering grounds. We are concerned about lease size for good reasons. We only have to look across the water to see what large-scale aquaculture looks like with Cooke Aquaculture in Jonesport.
Over the years we have lost 547 acres to Cooke, and they aren’t stopping. Recently, Cooke applied for 44 more acres in Mud Hole — a significant lobstering area, and it was shouted down, for the time being, because of a lot of work from the lobstermen.
The way the state aquaculture rules are written right now, the state is forcing one industry to suffer for another. Many of us used to fish the waters around the Cooke salmon pens. Not anymore.
Our union is endorsing an effort by Protect Maine’s Fishing Heritage, ProtectMaine.com, to change the rules before we have more large-scale corporate entities taking over Maine’s water. We agree with scaling back leases, not allowing the leases to be sold or transferred without a mandatory public hearing, and a serious effort by the state to find a site location for aquaculture, no matter how big or small, that would impact people the least. Whether it’s those who make their living on the water or those who enjoy swimming, kayaking or recreating in some way, there must be a better way than what is currently set up in statute. We must find a way to work together and it’s time to change the rules before what we know of Maine doesn’t exist anymore.
Rock Alley of Jonesport is president of the Maine Lobstering Union.