BAR HARBOR — On Monday, Matt Gerald of Western Bay Oyster Co. held a public scoping session on a proposed longer-term aquaculture lease of the 3.36-acre site in Western Bay that he’s already farming. The site is near the head of Mount Desert Island, south of Old House Cove in Western Bay and near Windaway Lane.
He held a limited purpose agriculture lease, which is available to any Maine citizen and allows for up to three sites that are 20 feet on each side, but it expired in November of last year. The experimental aquaculture lease system which allows farmers to test a site before committing resources to a larger operation.
“My experimental lease has expired,” Gerald told the group gathered in a small conference room in the Bar Harbor municipal building. “And so the next level is a standard aquaculture lease which requires more hoops to jump through. And so that’s where we are.”
The scoping session, a required step in the process to apply for a lease from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, precedes the official filing of an application. One the application has been received and reviewed, the DMR will hold a public hearing.
According to Gerald, oysters are a good thing. “Every commercial oyster starts its life in a hatchery,” he said, “which means there’s no natural resource being depleted. They say an adult oyster can filter 50 gallons a water a day. Oysters also eat the plankton and the algae that are naturally occurring.”
Growing oysters near the surface has become a popular practice because the oysters grow faster in warm water. But the downside of this practice, according to Gerald, is that oysters are in the sunlight zone and foul more rapidly.
Oyster farmers with surface cages have to go out often to flip their floating systems and pressure-wash the oysters. As a bottom-culture farmer, Gerald said his operation is virtually undetectable.
And he’s happy with the location. “We grow really good oysters, he said. “A mile away they don’t taste nearly as good.”