Speaker explores competing interests on Maine’s coastline

WINTER HARBOR — As more and more marine interests demand space on Maine’s coastline, the question arises of how to govern and manage all of these interests to best ensure that the waterfront has room for everyone and can be used sustainably. 

Paul Anderson shared some insight on this issue during his presentation “Competing for the Commons along Maine’s Coast” on June 14 at the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park in Winter Harbor. 

Anderson serves as the executive director for the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries and has several decades of experience working with coastal resources in Maine, as well as other coastal ecosystems around the world. 

The focus of Anderson’s presentation was how to manage a common resource, in this case the coastal ocean, in order to preserve many uses for years to come.  

The uses most relevant to Maine’s coast that were highlighted in the presentation were fishing, and how it coincides with aquaculture. While aquaculture has not been prevalent for as long as the fish and lobster industry have, it has grown quickly in recent years. 

“Aquaculture is coming and it’s one of these features that’s competing for our commons,” Anderson said. “I do think there’s a place for aquaculture here in Maine. It needs to be integrated carefully with commercial fishing. I don’t like how polarized those two sectors have become.” 

Anderson discussed how more recent developments like aquaculture use the coast in different ways than more traditional ones like fishing. 

“Aquaculture gets a fixed spot somewhere in these common places to cultivate a variety of species, including fish, shellfish, sea vegetables,” Anderson said. 

“Fishermen fish where they can and want to,” Anderson said. “They have essentially a lease and they have a permit for a spot, but it’s not very big, and then they lay down lots of spots.” 

Practices that acknowledge the ocean as a common space are generally sustainable when done correctly, according to the presentation. However, different types of aquaculture have different potential impacts. 

Operations that do not require feeding because the seafood or plant being raised feeds on naturally occurring nutrients can be done without much alteration to the ecosystem around them, according to Anderson. Farms that do require fish to be fed often raise concerns about how the ocean will be affected. 

An example used by Anderson was the difference between how finfish are farmed, compared to how other species are grown. 

“So again, there’s a distinction between the culture of finfish and the other species that are listed here because the other species don’t require inputs,” Anderson said. “We’re not putting anything in the water, we’re not putting food, carbon, nutrients, contaminants.” 

He drew a comparison between mussel farming and salmon farming. Salmon are fed in their pens, while mussels remain part of their natural ecosystem until they are harvested. 

“Mussels bind to the lines with their byssal threads, and they grow within a couple of years, pull these up and you have mussels to eat,” Anderson said. “They’re grown in the right place. You don’t have to feed them; they’re just feeding on phytoplankton in the water.” 

“Growing salmon for the most part, these operations are fed,” said Anderson, “and with that feed comes different concerns about what are you putting into this ecosystem, and when you take those fish out what’s left?” 

In addition to the environmental impact, there is also the economic factor to consider, as many developing fish farms are backed by foreign investors that may not have much regard for Maine’s economy or its natural resources. 

“Those operations are being heavily capitalized by foreign money,” said Anderson. “If these are such good ideas, where’s the U.S. capital? Where’s the investment from our community so that some of that prosperity can stay here instead of boards of directors for somebody in Norway?” 

Anderson does think that with proper planning and management, there can be room for different interests utilizing our coasts, and with proper protection this can all be done sustainably to ensure use for the future. 

“I think if we think through what the challenges are on this stuff, we can find that balance through conservation and prosperity,” Anderson said. 

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