Some two dozen visitors from the Gulf States — that’s Gulf of Mexico, not Gulf of Maine — spent three days Downeast last week studying the interaction between fish farmers and commercial and recreational fishermen along the Maine coast.
The visitors, “politicians, regulators, commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen,” according to Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, were all people who “have been or will be involved in discussions around aquaculture in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.”
The Southern visitors were representatives of the Gulf Seafood Institute. Based in New Orleans suburb of Metairie, GSI claims on its website that it “advocates on behalf of the entire Gulf seafood community and the consumers who depend on us” and “brings together every aspect of the Gulf seafood supply chain.”
The delegation arrived in Maine Wednesday evening and was greeted by representatives of the MAA and the Department of Marine Resources.
On Thursday morning, the delegation traveled to the Cooke Aquaculture finfish (Atlantic salmon) hatchery in East Machias before heading out to Great Wass Island and boarding Captain Butch Harris’s lobster boat Pier Pressure to inspect some of Cooke’s offshore Atlantic salmon pens.
On Friday, the delegation visited the USDA Coldwater Aquaculture Research Facility — a large-scale broodstock and breeding facility where government scientists are using selective breeding to increase efficiency and sustainability of Atlantic salmon culture — then moved on to the neighboring University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research. Both are located on the eastern shore of Taunton Bay in Franklin.
The last stop on the tour was the new Hollander & de Koning mussel processing plant in Trenton.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council — one of eight such regional bodies — recently adopted a fisheries management plan covering aquaculture. The plan is the first and, so far, the only one of its kind and, Belle said, the plan has been “locked up in litigation” by a coalition including conservation groups and both commercial and recreational fishermen.
GSI believed that the plaintiffs in that litigation were “hearing only one side of the story,” Belle said. The focus of the trip was to demonstrate that “there are places in the country where user conflicts can be balanced, if not resolved.”
At the fish pens, Belle said, the delegation spoke with Cooke’s site manager about the interaction between the extensive salmon farms and the active lobster, scallop and sea urchin fisheries in the area.
At the mussel processing plant, Belle said, co-owner Fiona de Koning talked about the interaction between her company, which grows mussels on several tracts around Mount Desert Island, and local clam diggers and mussel harvesters and the need to protect wild mussel beds.
“They were surprised to hear that an aquaculturist would advocate regulations that would affect them,” Belle said, but “the focus was on finfish.”
While the tour was hosted by the Maine Aquaculture Association, two key players in the federal aquaculture world also joined the party: Michael Rubino, director of the Office of Aquaculture at NOAA Fisheries, and Paul Doremus, currently NOAA’s assistant secretary for conservation and management.