Joshua and Lauren Gray of Cranberry Oysters demonstrate one of the cages they use to grow oysters at a public hearing last week on Great Cranberry. ISLANDER PHOTO BY BARBARA CALDWELL-PEASE

Cranberry Oysters sails through hearing on proposed new lease

CRANBERRY ISLES — Neighbors and friends joined Lauren and Joshua Gray last week for a hearing on a pending aquaculture lease for their company, Cranberry Oysters. Lauren Gray has been growing oysters since 2016, working on eight Limited Purpose Aquaculture (LPA) sites. They have applied for a long term lease of 5.25 acres in water known as “The Pool” at Great Cranberry.

The hearing was moderated by Amanda Ellis, aquaculture hearings officer for the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR).

She was joined by Hearings Officer Erin Wilkinson and marine scientist Flora M. Drury. Joanna Fogg, owner of Bar Harbor Oyster Company and Lauren Gray’s former employer, came to the hearing with Teagan White, an employee. Great Cranberry Harbormaster Norman Sanborn was also in attendance along with many Cranberry Isles residents.

Eventually, Cranberry Oysters would like to raise 120,000 oysters annually, Gray said. She hopes to, one day, employ one or two other people to help with the operation which could grow to 250 cages for a four-year cycle.

Along with her experience growing oysters and training through the Island Institute’s aquaculture program, Gray is a former teacher on the Cranberry Isles. She has also worked in the stern for lobstermen and served as an instructor with Little Cranberry Yacht Club and at Islesford Boatworks. Her husband Josh is president of Newman & Gray Boatyard.

“I knew I wanted to work in the water,” Lauren said about her move from teaching to oyster farming, adding that she wanted to help create a “potentially diverse island industry while keeping the tradition of working in the water.”

Lauren answered questions after her presentation, including Drury’s inquiry about whether floating cages could be relocated if the oyster farmers noticed location interfered with shore bird activity. Gray said she would be able to keep up on shore bird activity and move floats if necessary. She also reassured a resident whose home overlooks the pool, that she would be able to use less obtrusive markers than the current bright orange.

Drury submitted the Department of Marine Resources site survey, including video of the survey team’s dive. She verified the Grays’ compliance with the department’s requirements.

After her talk, Drury answered questions, giving assurances that if the lease is granted, Lauren’s area will be protected against poachers, that the lease, should it be sold, would be subject to the same requirements it will have if granted to the Grays, and that, as planned, the farm will not hinder marine traffic, lobsters and clams or eel grass growth. She assured the group that water is tested to make sure oysters are safe for human consumption.

According to Wilkinson, the committee has 120 days to review the application before it is sent back to the Grays for any necessary changes. Finally, the application will go to the DMR Commissioner, and if granted, the lease term will begin at that time.

“It’s not every community that provides this kind of support,” Lauren said when asked about her feelings after the hearing, “I feel lucky to be in a community that supports us.”

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