Attacks on aquaculture unwarranted

By Erick Swanson

I’d like to share some thoughts on the issues discussed in the June 29 Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) hearing on the renewal of my mussel farm lease at Hardwood Island.

Friends of Blue Hill Bay (FOBHB) are clearly hardcore anti-aquaculture and will oppose and appeal any DMR decisions regarding aquaculture. That is not because they expect to win anything – they always lose. It is to intimidate any young people interested in aquaculture from attempting anything in “their” bay.

They are clearly well funded by wealthy shorefront owners to discourage aquaculture, as efforts to oppose and appeal DMR decisions are very expensive. Tying up the DMR in court is part of the strategy. The DMR has limited resources and occupying DMR administrative staff on legal issues limits the agency’s ability to handle new applications.

If these “Friends” were to succeed in putting our family company out of business on some minor compliance issue, it would have major ripple effect on new applicants’ ability to raise money for their ventures. Banks, investors and state and federal loan guarantee authorities would find it difficult if not impossible to approve financing for aquaculture if they faced major losses over minor compliance issues.

It takes years generally to generate positive cash flow typically for any business, and in particular, for aquaculture. I have gone from slum dog millionaire back to slum dog more than once. Nature can be tough, and the environment is changing. But for those of us who love the aquaculture business and have confidence we can overcome the issues, we just soldier on.

My ability to soldier on with my sons is in no small part due to our confidence and that of our business partners that the DMR will be fair and predictable regarding our lease. As my sons move ahead with Ipswich with our mussel farm, there is a substantial investment in adapting new technology into fish pens at our exposed and energy-intensive site. None of us can believe the DMR would terminate all this effort and investment over the frivolous claims of FOBHB.

Diver Ed resolved concerns about supposed “plastic nets” on the sea floor when he found instead bisected socking, a netting used in Canada to grow mussels. When I looked at the underwater video, it looked like netting to me, and a small pile of sock netting looks large.

We tried using the socking on the farm until large amounts broke off in storms, and we discontinued it. There are no nets on the bottom. I don’t recall ever losing one. They are very expensive.

Other than the socking and a tire of unknown origin (it’s not ours) no other debris from the farm or equipment was seen on the video or on the nearby beaches. We generate large amounts of cut twine and rope from replacing buoy ropes and cleaning back lines as we harvest, and it all goes in trash barrels we keep on board. Nothing goes overboard.

Diver Ed got what socking he could find, and if we had snagged the tire in our grappling effort, we would have disposed of that properly as well.

Our lease requires we keep the area clear of our debris, not clean up after everyone else. I stated from the beginning that I would cooperate with the DMR on retrieving any nets that I believed were there at the time, but that I was not legally responsible to do so. It is not my legal responsibility to retrieve the nets of others, in this case, Cooke Aquaculture. Any nets should not impact the decision to move ahead on our lease renewal decision.

Jon Lewis also testified that the sea floor under our lease site looks like it should, in composition of animals including lobsters, crabs, sea stars, etc.

As far as the marker buoys, the original PATON application was for 11-inch yellow buoy and that to this day is what is approved. The U.S. Coast Guard approved it, and I never changed it. Complaints from FOBHB and opponent Don Ely that the corner markers were not distinctive enough resulted in the commissioner directing us to use a more distinctive buoy, which became the large blue buoys. This apparently satisfied FOBHB and the DMR commissioner and stayed that way until last summer when it became a large yellow buoy.

With over 30 years in the wholesale seafood business and 11 years as a certified shellfish dealer, both of which come under extensive state and federal regulations, I have never been found to be out of compliance.

Ely will tell anyone who will listen that he believes I am not a responsible operator and not a good steward of the environment. If the foregoing does not establish that I am a responsible operator and good steward of the environment, I don’t know what would.

I have been told that FOBHB has spent in excess of half a million dollars over the years in efforts to put me out of business, all of which have failed. I am still here.

With no valid claim against me or my sons, a general complaint that he just doesn’t like us is all he has to work with.

Erick Swanson of Mount Desert is advisor and general manager of Maine Cultured Mussels Inc., which is owned by his family.



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