A perspective on the recent DMR hearing re: aquaculture lease in the Morgan Bay area.

From: “Hugh J. Curran” <Hugh_J_Curran@umit.maine.edu>

Aquaculture Farming on Morgan Bay
On Tuesday, June 18, a number of interested residents of the Morgan Bay area met with the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) in the Surry School to discuss shellfish aquaculture leases. Although a previous aquaculture hearing had taken place a few months ago some residents around the Bay had not had an opportunity to speak. At this “Hearing” each person was allowed ten minutes to present their views and express their concern about aquaculture farming on the Bay. Some spoke movingly about living on the Bay as summer residents while others spoke as lifelong residents. They noted that, up to the present the Bay had been a resource for traditional usage such as seasonal fishing and clamming but that aquaculture farming was a very different matter since it granted “ownership” to leaseholders of up to ten years which could then be renewed or transferred to others.

One speaker noted that Morgan Bay is part of our shared Commons “owned” by everyone. It is like the air we breathe and like the open seas which are not owned or leased exclusively since they are part of our shared heritage. The speaker asked how it can be that the DMR can usurp the rights of shore owners and others who enjoy the Bay as it is? Shellfish aquaculture is a radical departure from traditional use. It will result in privatizing up to 200 acres of the Bay for commercial purposes.

Other presenters noted that what is taking place on Morgan Bay is impacting everyone who lives on or near the Bay. It is eroding friendships due to differing views on the long term effects of aquaculture farming. Leases tend to increase as more people apply for them so that more boat traffic will inevitably disrupt the sense of tranquility which is integral to the Bay.

Some say that the DMR’s “Hearings” are so heavily weighted in favor of commercializing the bays that the “hearings” are essentially a sham since the criteria used by the DMR makes it a foregone conclusion that aquaculture farming will take place no matter what the feelings of those who live there. Others  maintain that the opposition to leases has more to do with the NIMBY effect which pits wealthier summer residents against the working waterfront. But this argument is difficult to sustain since local opinions are very divided.

Although it appears that little can be done to prevent the aquaculture leases some participants of the hearings insist that new legislation can be introduced to the State legislature  to give more rights to riparian owners and others interested in keeping the Bay for traditional use.

The process of appropriation of the bays for aquaculture farming is taking place at an accelerating rate along the Maritime coasts of Canada and the U.S. due to the depletion of ocean fisheries.  Under such circumstances do “water commons” and those who share in the water commons have any essential rights? According to Tom Lindsey, speaking recently on national radio for the “Environmental Legal Defense Fund”, the environment has a history of being treated as a commodity without regard to long term costs. Although non-profit groups, such as nature preserves, do speak for “nature rights” they make up only a minuscule part of land ownership and have little impact on bays and rivers.

The “Friends of Morgan Bay” under the aegis of the “Blue Hill Heritage Trust” oversees several hundred acres in the Emerton Heath Watershed leading to Morgan Bay. It’s three nature preserves provide public access for hiking trails and nature walks for local people, summer residents and school children. One of these is the Carter Nature Preserve which includes a ½ mile of shoreline overlooking the intended aquaculture lease sites on this very small Bay.

Although the shellfish aquaculture leases have become a contentious issue with contending personalities, what is needed is that all concerned look at the long term effects of commercial use of the Bay. We should try to protect this wonderful “commons” for future generations rather than considering the Bay as still one more commercial enterprise to be turned into a commodity for the benefit of a few.
Hugh Curran

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