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Many testify about proposed limits, rules for aquaculture

April 14, 2021 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A bill that seeks to limit the size of aquaculture leases and would change how leases are transferred in Maine drew testimony from a range of aquafarmers, fishermen and women, advocates and others who depend on the state’s ocean resources for their livelihoods.

Rep. Robert Alley has proposed a concept draft of a bill to “protect Maine’s ocean waters, support robust regulatory oversight and the long-term health of the aquaculture industry,” which was considered by the Committee on Marine Resources on Tuesday.

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“We are in effect selling our oceans without the appropriate checks and balances in place,” Alley said of the existing aquaculture leasing process, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Currently, Maine allows a person to hold 1,000 acres total through any number of aquaculture leases. The bill would limit any person to holding no more than 10 leases and no more than 100 acres total, the newspaper reported.

It would also require that leases be transferred back to the state at the end of their term, which would end the ability of lease holders to transfer them to family members or sell their businesses along with the leases to others.

The bill would also direct more resources to the Department of Marine Resources, which oversees lease applications and inspections. Alley said the department approves 95% of leases applications, even as the number of applications has increased from 13 in 2015 to 41 in 2020, the newspaper reported.

Supporters of the bill said it would prevent aquaculture operations they think are too large from moving forward, like a proposed salmon hatchery in Gouldsboro, which if approved would cover over 110 acres between two sites, the newspaper reported.

The proposed limits on the size and number of leases aquaculture businesses could obtain would effectively “end the existence of finfish aquaculture in Maine,” and eliminate the jobs that those operations provide, said Meredith Mendelson, deputy director of the Department of Marine Resources.