HARPSWELL — Harpswell could see its first commercial aquaculture lease after a largely supportive public hearing on a proposed oyster farm Monday night, March 7.
Jon Rogers, of Stone Pillars Lane, hopes to establish an 8-acre aquaculture operation in Brewer Cove, which is between Orr’s Island and Dog’s Head.
Rogers is a lobsterman and also works at L.L Bean, but he hopes he can transition to growing American Oysters full time in a series of floating cages and bottom cages at his proposed site.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources, which is in charge of leasing public coastal waters for aquaculture, held a hearing on the proposal at the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust Monday night.
In his presentation, Rogers said he has some oysters growing on the site with limited purpose aquaculture licenses. According to him, they’re taking quite well to the area.
DMR Marine Scientist Marcy Nelson said when she dove at the site, she did not find any evidence of impediments such as lobster traps, or even lobster holes. However, she found pockets of eelgrass that did not show up on DMR maps. This required her to request that Rogers’ boundaries be pushed 25 feet back to comply with state law.
Nelson added, however, that the eelgrass she observed was silted over; the presence of Rogers’ oysters might actually clear some of the turbidity in the water, she said.
Two neighbors voiced support for Rogers’ project during public comment.
Jane Smith, of Orr’s Island, said the commercial oyster farm was a “wonderful opportunity,” and that she was “all for it.”
“I hope there are many, many of these going on,” she added.
Another neighbor, Sharon Emig, after asking if the floating cages might affect kayaking, said the project would be “a great addition to the town.”
After the testimony, Diantha Robinson, the DMR hearing officer, added that “It was unusual to see positive comments in (this type) of hearing.”
When the meeting concluded, Robinson noted that if granted, Rogers’ oyster farm would be the first commercial aquaculture lease in Harpswell.
She said there are a number of limited purpose leases scattered throughout town, and there was also once an experimental aquaculture lease in Ewing Narrows, but it was not renewed.
“Overall, I feel pretty good about the whole thing,” Rogers said, speaking after the meeting. “Anybody that I’ve talked to about what I’m trying to do, the only comment that’s ever made is, ‘When are they going to be ready to buy?'”
Rogers plans to sell oysters under the name Dogs Head Oyster Company.
DMR will make a decision on his application within 120 days.
Dana Morse, an associate at Maine Sea Grant and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said he expects to see more fishermen turning to aquaculture in the near future.
With many shellfish and seafood stocks declining statewide, aquaculture is “another tool in the toolbox,” he said.
He said in Harpswell especially, “there’s a lot of good growing area.”
“Just look at a (navigational) chart,” he said. “All those nooks and crannies – that’s a lot of opportunity.”
Jon Rogers’ oyster gear in Brewer Cove, Harpswell. The Department of Marine Resources held a public hearing on Rogers’ aquaculture application March 7.