The Department of Marine Resources has received two applications to lease two sites for a salmon farm in the Penobscot Bay.
The locations are off Little Deer Isle, near Scott and Pickering islands. The combined pens will occupy 30 acres of public waters, preventing their use by fishermen, islanders and pleasure boaters. Allowing this lease in the free and public bay is comparable to the state of Maine leasing 30 acres of Baxter State Park for the exclusive use of L.L. Bean for a private hiking or hunting camp.
When I first heard about fish farming 20 years ago, it sounded like a good idea. It would supplement the wild fish catch, and provide business and jobs for people along the coast.
Originally, fish pens were owned by local individuals or co-ops, but in the past 10 years, these pens, whether they have gone bankrupt or succeeded, have been bought out by large corporations which seem to be subsidiaries of grain corporations or Norwegian aquaculture companies. The paper trail is confusing.
Salmon aquaculture is touted as providing jobs. I have heard from one woman who worked on a fish farm. The standard pay was $10 an hour, without benefits, and there were lay-offs without notice. In addition, feeding is becoming increasingly automated, so the number of jobs is decreasing. In the proposed Penobscot Bay fish pen sites, at least three lobstermen already have traps in that 30-acre area. They can’t move their traps down the bay, because if they do, they will be cut off by the lobstermen there. So the fish pens will take away three good jobs.
The Department of Marine Resources says it is overwhelmed by the number of aquaculture applications it has received. It has considered calling a moratorium on applications. I think it should.