BAR HARBOR — Two young entrepreneurs have applied to the Department of Marine Resources for an aquaculture lease to raise oysters on two tracts covering nearly 25 acres near Thomas Island in the Mount Desert Narrows region of Mount Desert Island.
Last summer, Jesse Fogg and Joanna Walls formed the Bar Harbor Oyster Co., LLC. In February, after a lightly attended Department of Marine Resources scoping session, the company filed an application for a 10-year aquaculture lease to grow American and European oysters on two tracts totaling 24.5 acres in the area located between Israel Point and Thomas Island.
According to the application filed with DMR, the company plans to raise 1 million market sized oysters annually in strings of wire cages that float a few inches above the surface of the water.
Initially, the company plans to place 170 cages on the lease site in strings of 10 cages each. By the third year of operation, the company anticipates that 1,240 cages, holding about 3 million oysters, would be in the water.
Small oysters would be placed in plastic mesh bags inside the cages, then sorted regularly by size as they grow. Oysters of similar size would be returned to the bags and cages for continued growth.
The company plans to moor a “pontoon deck barge” on the site that will hold a gasoline engine-powered machine for tumbling and grading oysters. Monthly during the April-November growing season workers will use the grader to sort the oysters by size before they are returned to the growout cages. Oysters grow more rapidly if they are raised with animals similar in size.
In addition to the cages, the company wants to moor a 24-foot-by-12-foot work barge on the site throughout the spring through late fall growing that would serve as an upweller to store more than 1 million juvenile seed oysters. The electric pump that circulates sea water through the upweller would draw its power from a bank of deep cycle batteries charged by an array of solar panels mounted on the roof of a shed built on the barge.
The company hopes to work on the site for as many as six days a week during the April-November season. During the winter, the floating oyster cages would be submerged to the bottom.
According to the company, the oyster cages would be “flipped” every 7-14 days during the season to reduce marine fouling.
The proposed lease sites are located off the western shore of Thomas Island in 4 to 17 feet of water. The southern tract of about 15 acres lies relatively close to the eastern shore of Israel Point and the Thundermist Road subdivision. The smaller, northern tract is closer to Thomas Island.
Earlier this month, DMR sent notice to the town of Bar Harbor and the owners of shoreland near the proposed lease site that the company’s application had been accepted as complete. Within the next few months, department diver-scientists will conduct an environmental assessment site visit to the proposed lease tracts. Once that has been completed, DMR will schedule a public hearing on the lease application. According to the department, “hearings are generally scheduled within six months to a year from the date the application is declared complete.” In this instance, that date was June 2.