BAR HARBOR — Where do baby scallops come from? Why is a light necessary to mark buoys? Will the farmed scallops increase the local wild scallop population? These were some of the questions fielded by owners of Acadia Aqua Farms during a scoping session on Friday.
One of Maine’s largest mussel farming operations, the company has submitted an application for a 20-year lease on a 68-acre suspended gear operation for farming scallops in Frenchman Bay. It is located 4,000 feet from shore and 2,700 feet northeast of Sunken Ledge.
About 25 people attended the scoping session that took place via the video conferencing platform Zoom. Those in attendance included shoreline neighbors, an Acadia National Park representative and others interested in learning more about the proposed aquaculture farm.
“We’ve got two 800-foot long lines,” explained Alex de Koning, whose family owns Acadia Aqua Farms, in a recent conversation with the Islander.
“Those are basically the two boundaries and we’re going to extend them a bit.”
There will be lights on each marker buoy of the site so that anyone traveling on the water in the dark will be able to see it. One attendee asked if the lights were necessary.
“The fact that the Coast Guard wants you to put a light on it is a little bit surprising to me,” said Chris Petersen, who is a marine biology professor at College of the Atlantic. “I’m wondering, is this a common thing that happens in aquaculture sites and I just don’t see them because I kayak by them during the day?”
Both Alex and his mother Fiona de Koning were on the call to answer questions.
“We want it on the chart,” Alex said in response to Petersen’s question. “We want someone sailing into Frenchman Bay for the first time to look on the chart and know it’s there. In the process of asking for private aids to navigation, you fall under the same regulations as say the buoys marking the ledges.
“We are responsible for building and maintaining and position keeping on the buoys. The Coast Guard annually checks them and that gets them on their chart.”
Whether or not the scallop farming site would increase the wild scallop population came up more than once during the session. While that concept is being studied around a 3.2-acre independent farming site on Hurricane Island not owned by Acadia Aqua Farms, there is no clear evidence yet. According to Alex de Koning, scallop farming in North America has not been done at a significant enough scale to be able to see its effect on the wild scallop population. Instead, he shared an example from Japan where scallop farming is prolific. The Japanese style of cultivation inspired development on the Maine coast.
“They saw 1,000 times the settlement of spat,” said Alex, explaining that a female scallop outputs between 10 and 30 million eggs in one shot. “They saw a very large increase going from 1,000 spat per bag to about 1,000,000 per bag.”
“It could be like a nursery site for wild seed source,” Fiona de Koning added.
One fisherman of wild scallops from Sorrento said he was skeptical that would be the case, but that it would be awesome if proven to be true.
Another caller asked where the baby scallops, also known as spat, come from, specifically if the company would be introducing new scallops to the bay.
There will be no spat introduced to the bay in the Acadia Aqua Farm process, explained Alex. Their business model is to capture what is in the water already. Petersen provided a biological explanation, explaining that bivalve larvae tend to stay pretty local.
“Scallops stay a lot longer in the water column then clams do,” said Alex de Koning. “We know with mussels, seven to nine days is the norm. With scallops, I’ve heard 30 to 45 days. They stay swimming a lot longer so there’s more chance for a wider spread.”
Using mesh bags, called lantern nets, that are hung beginning 35 feet below the surface of the water, the scallop spat hooks on to rest and will stay until they are too big to leave the bag.
“We seem to be growing these very well between 35 and 80 feet,” said Alex. He recently received a grant for a machine used in Japan that mechanizes threading string through scallop shells for ear-hanging them for growth. Scallops take four years to mature.
One neighbor from Sorrento asked if the company had plans to expand. Acadia Aqua Farms currently has one lease application for another mussel farming site pending with the state’s Department of Marine Resources that was submitted a year ago and has been tied up because of COVID-19.
“We have been concerned for about the last seven years or so about climate change,” explained Fiona in response to the question after saying there are no plans for further expansion. “Those changes are happening faster than we are really able to adapt to. We also need to mitigate the risk of depending on one species.
“Although it looks like a rush that we’ve got to this position that things are coming together, it’s not been a rush to get here. We’ve taken, as I said, seven years for one. The last four years for the scallop research.”
Acadia Aqua Farm has had an LPA – limited purpose aquaculture – license for the last three years and is now applying for a 20-year lease at the same site.
“I honestly both hope and expect this is the last lease I will ever apply for in my life,” said Alex after noting he is almost 30 years old. “I do not see a path for needing more than this because, quite honestly, it would be more than, as one family, we would be able to handle.”