Thankfully, we understood when we decided to begin farming oysters that site selection was of upmost importance. When we first started we didn’t fully understand exactly what a perfect farm site would entail but we talked to a lot of people, listened and kept our minds open.
We had a rough idea of where we wanted our lease to be. It was close to home, had public water access and seemed like a protected area where oysters would thrive. Before we had a boat, or started any paper work, we contacted a professor of Marine Ecology and Aquaculture at UMaine to see if he would come take a look. We borrowed a friend’s skiff and went for a ride.
We were pleased to learn that the body of water we were hoping to farm was possibly “one of the best places” the expert had seen. He encouraged us to continue to get familiar with the entire area over the next couple years. In particular, he told us to pay attention to, and begin documenting, things like sea temperatures, bird activity, wildlife in the area, and other people’s uses of the bay. At this point we began the long process of applying for a Standard lease.
Part of the application process includes a public scoping session. It was during this step that we were introduced more formally to other stakeholders near our proposed lease site. Some of these people were concerned riparian landowners who were wary of change. Some were commercial fisherman and harvesters who were curious about how our lease might affect their livelihoods. Local sea farmers, who offered support and advice, also greeted us.
One of the things we can’t stress enough is the importance of listening to all of these stakeholders and taking into consideration their thoughts and concerns. Outlining an application that does this from the very beginning is easier than going back to revise later and helps to keep relations with stakeholders amicable.
For example, landowners were concerned about noise and we evaluated the type of equipment we would use on site. We detailed in our application that we would use quieter four-stroke engines, would not to use pressure washers, and only work during normal daylight hours. The Harbor Master and other harvesters were concerned about navigation and certain harvest areas. We hired the professor from the GIS lab of College of the Atlantic to chart the lines of the proposed lease making sure the deep water channel was open for other boats to navigate and tweaked some edges to stay well away from some productive clam flats.
Other aquaculturists encouraged us to get some LPAs so that we could gain some first-hand experience working in the bay and with the husbandry of oysters. We did just that and continued to learn and adapt.
Our entire leasing process took almost 3 years. But in that time we were able to start cultivating oysters. We gained knowledge about grow-out methods, gear configurations, and got a sense for how to scale. Before we had to defend our lease application at our public hearing we reached out to the Maine Aquaculture Association (MAA). The legal process of the hearing can be daunting and potentially expensive. The MAA offered invaluable advice and support and saved us a lot of money on lawyers. Our lease ended up being approved by both the Army Corps and the Maine DMR. We have had the privilege to farm oysters in the pristine waters off Mount Desert Island since 2014 and we continue to practice good stewardship of our lease site and are advocates for the further development of sustainable aquaculture and working waterfronts in Maine.
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