Casco Bay experimental aquaculture project progresses

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A proposed aquaculture project off Portland’s East End is on track for state approval after there were not enough requests for a public hearing.  

The Department of Marine Resources received four public comments during a 30-day comment period that concluded March 26, according to Jeff Nichols, DMR communications manager.

Juvenile oysters
Juvenile oysters are grown at the Running Tide Technologies hatchery in Harpswell. (Courtesy Running Tide)

The comments came from residents of Portland and Falmouth who claimed there are already too many aquaculture projects in Casco Bay and that the proposed project would clog the area. Three sought a public hearing.

Public hearings on aquaculture leases are only held if DMR receives five or more requests for a hearing during the public comment period, Nichols said.

DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher and staff are now expected to issue a draft decision by the end of May.

The experimental lease sought by Restorative Aquaculture LLC – a partnership of Portland-based aquaculture company Running Tide Technologies, the University of Southern Maine, and the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership – intends to explore green applications of aquaculture, harvesting kelp and shellfish to improve surrounding water quality.

According to the pending lease application, the project requires three acres between Mackworth Island in Falmouth and Portland’s Back Cove swing bridge. It will be marked by buoys, with no machinery on the site, and project monitors are expected to visit the site an average of twice a month.