Maine leases four acres of water off Islesboro to mussel-growing venture
ISLESBORO — The Maine Dept. of Marine Resource has granted an experimental aquaculture lease in waters northeast of Flat Island on Islesboro for the cultivation of blue mussels. DMR granted the three-year lease to Islesboro Marine Enterprises on Jan. 17.
The company, which is based on Islesboro and owned by Josh Conover, will lease the waters from the State of Maine for $100 per acre, per year. The lease requires $5,000 be set aside in escrow.
The venture calls for a maximum of 12 mussel rafts, measuring 40-feet by 40-feet, to be arranged in three rows. From those rafts, 400 lines will suspend into the water, and on which the mussels will grow to market size.
The four-acre site is on the west side of Islesboro, between Seal and Flat islands and has a muddy bottom. Flat Island is owned by the State of Maine through the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, while Seal Island is privately owned and is home to one residence, according to documents associated with th4 aquaculture license.
The DMR has already classified the four acres as appropriate for shellfish harvesting. The closest aquaculture site is 3.4 miles south of Islesboro at the mouth of Ducktrap River. There, the DMR leased waters to Gene Cartwright for a oyster propagation venture.
According to the DMR, there is no eelgrass within the lease site, per a 2004 survey. Eelgrass is vital habitat for marine seedlings and life.
Flat Island is a designated seabird nesting site, and provides habitat to significant wildlife, a classification in Maine that requires protection.
The Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commented on the application, saying the mussel culture could create problems with eiders; therefore, Islesboro Marine Enterprises must deploy netting suitable for excluding eiders without killing them.
“MDIFW will not issue depredation permits to lethally remove eiders in the event they do begin to create issues with the aquaculture operations,” the DMR findings of fact reported.
The owners of Seal Island, David and Alexia Leuschen, wrote to the DMR in November stating that their ingress and egress from their island would be unreasonably impacted by an associated shift in boat traffic that, they said, would result from the mussel farm.
The DMR responded, however, that the mussel site would unlikely interfere with the Leuschen’s route to and from their island given the site’s distance from the island.
Melissa and Eric Jagger, who are year-round managers of Seal Island, also submitted objections to the mussel venture, citing potential navigational hazards in a heavily traveled channel between Flat and Seal islands.
The DMR responded: “Given the amount of navigable water around the proposed lease, it is reasonable to conclude that mariners could safely maneuver around the site.”
According to the DMR findings in its permit approval, Islesboro Marine Enterprises talked with lobstermen about the venture and the DMR received no follow-up comments. The mussel farm owners have requested that no lobster traps be set around the mussel rafts.
“Based on the absence of comments, it is reasonable to conclude that local lobstermen do not have concerns with the proposal,” the DMR said.
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