Maine Voices: It’s past time to do broad-based ocean planning
We must deal with conflicts among ocean users while maintaining the health of the marine ecosystem.
FRIENDSHIP — As with many Mainers, I’ve felt myself basking not only in the transition to summer, but also in a sense that Maine has made great progress in the care of its natural and social resources. As a coastal resident, though, I still see many unresolved and growing issues surrounding the intertidal zone and the expansion of aquaculture within the state. Recent court rulings and petitions for Department of Marine Resources rule-making, as well as legislative efforts, have yet to give us clear direction for the future.
I’ve been a lobster fisherman for about 35 years and advocated for our wild fisheries. I’ve also worked on climate issues, including serving on the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission, and in doing so, promoted various aquaculture practices for their remediating and beneficial effects on our environment. In addition, I have been a proponent of ocean planning, from outreach efforts early on during the Statoil and University of Maine wind energy proposals to eight years of regional ocean planning efforts here in the Northeast.
Ocean planning deals with conflicts among ocean users both old and new, all while maintaining the health of the ocean’s ecosystems. If you hadn’t known that these conflicts could arise, you soon will. In a perfect world we would already have come together to discuss what we want from our shores and bays – what we might give and take while allowing for energy and food production and perhaps holding out a bit for our recreation and even inspiration from its natural state. We have not been proactive about these matters, however, and now we will be left facing issues as they arise on a case-by-case basis.
At a federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hearing on the Statoil project, someone stood up and said, “You fishermen are all alike. You think you own the whole damn ocean!” I responded after a moment’s thought, “Don’t think for a minute that if these fishermen who plied their trade for over 400 years were required at the time to have leases or deeded rights to where they fished, that they would indeed by now own the ocean.”
The lobster fishery has had its ups and downs and is now doing well, purposely managed at a small-boat, owner-operated scale that is suited to the coastal communities of Maine. This is a fact that should be noted, as many concerns about newly emerging industries stem from the fear of scale and the possibility of corporate ownership rather than local control.
Fishermen, who have long lived with a cooperative acceptance of the commons as their only spatial rights to fishing, now face ocean uses operating under a whole new set of rules – rules that could allow exclusivity, transferring and consolidation of lease sites into large privatized areas. This applies not just to aquaculture leases, but also to ocean energy, yacht basins and other privatized or leased uses, all of which we struggle to sort out while being hampered by archaic laws governing access and the intertidal zone.
Making decisions about the future of our coast, as with other things we value in different ways, is not easy. But it is something we must do. Harvester or homeowner, beachgoer or aquaculturist, no one has direction here – something we and the ecosystem both need. I do know aquaculture is here, as it should be. But we must find a way to fit it into the Maine coast, from the small kelp farm to the large salmon operation, like puzzle pieces that don’t always fit where you hope to put them. This is a task that can be accomplished when all voices are heard and when the Legislature, the Department of Marine Resources and local communities make a commitment to the future of Maine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Nelson is a longtime commercial fisherman and a resident of Friendship.