Category Archives: April 12

New scallop aquaculture coop aims to diversify a fishery while keeping profits ‘at the shore’

Maine Aquaculture Coop members with a contingent from PEI who were visiting to learn about aquaculture initiatives in Maine.

In 2016, fresh from her experience working to help set up the Tenants Harbor Fishermen’s Coop, longtime seasonal St. George resident Merritt Carey got an idea for a new venture that had the potential to benefit local lobstermen even more. What about getting local fishermen involved in the emerging scallop aquaculture industry?

“We formed the fishermen’s coop and simultaneously I was doing some consulting for Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI),” Carey, a lawyer turned project developer with a focus on fisheries-related projects, explains. “CEI does a lot—they administer the Working Waterfront program and they are the ones who were investing in and trying to promote scallop aquaculture in Maine through a technology transfer with Japan. Because I was doing this consulting work I got to know something about that and thought it was pretty cool, so I began talking to Peter Miller [a member of the Tenants Harbor Fishermen’s Coop] about it.”

Carey and Miller contacted Dana Morse of Maine Sea Grant at the University of Maine, a program that supplies marine science support on issues of concern to Maine’s coastal communities. “He came along and he, Peter, Chris Cook and I went out and looked around Penobscot Bay at potential scallop aquaculture sites just for the fun of it,” Carey says. “And we got a lot of information from him about what was involved.”

Carey and Miller’s researches also led them to a handful of others in the Penobscot Bay area who were experimenting with raising scallops—Brendan Atwood out of Pleasant Island working with Skip Connell out of Spruce Head, Marsden Brewer and his son Bobby in Stonington. “At this point we decided to set up a coop because I knew how to do that,” Merritt notes. “Because it’s not cheap to get into scallop aquaculture and because it’s a slightly different skill set, the coop provides the entity that can raise funds through grant writing [for the expensive equipment required—about $87,500 so far]—and a way to share information. It’s very organic. We’ve named it the Maine Aquaculture Coop. We were the first and perhaps we’re the only aquaculture coop in the state.”

A compelling reason to give scallop aquaculture a try, says Miller, is to provide an additional income stream for younger lobster fishermen. “This is for the next generation, in my opinion. I’m 66. I always had the diversification of the fisheries that my son or the younger guys don’t have anymore. I could go ground fishing, I could go scalloping, go lobstering, just go season to season and make a living. The younger fishermen cannot any longer get a scallop license or an elver license. The ground fish are controlled by the Feds and you need to own quota and have a NE Multispecies permit—which are no longer available, except by purchase. They are prohibitively expensive. Sometimes into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The shrimp season has been closed for three years now with no idea of when or if it will ever reopen. The urchin fishery is a closed fishery for both dragging and diving. Most all or any fishery that a young fisherman could diversify into are closed or no new licenses are being issued. So scallop aquaculture is hopefully something that many fishing communities can do and keep the money here.”

The choice of scallop aquaculture over other types of acquaculture, Miller adds, was a calculated one. “What we looked at, number one, was that no one was really doing it with scallops, so why not be number one? Also, scallops are a fairly high value item, so if we’re going to put the effort in, let’s make it worth it.”

For the past 20 years or so, efforts to successfully “farm” scallops had been frustrated by technological problems—largely because the focus was on trying to utilize the “cage” system used in oyster aquaculture and this didn’t work well for raising scallops, which need more room to grow. The key breakthrough came when fishermen like Marsden Brewer in Stonington and entities like CEI began looking to Japan for ideas.

The Japanese method focuses on raising the scallops from spat (or larvae)—which the Maine Aquaculture Coop fishermen collect wild—by hanging them in the water column in lantern nets for a couple of years. Ear hanging, which involves drilling a hole in the scallop ear (the protruding margin of shell near where the two shells join), is a method of choice to grow juveniles to maturity after the lantern-net stage.

Scallops that had been thinned ready to go back into lantern net to do some more growing.

While CEI has been focusing on testing ear-hanging technology, the Maine Aquaculture Coop, Carey and Miller say, has become focused on developing a market for what they call the “intermediary culture” of juvenile scallops, or “live in-shell baby sea scallops”—scallops not yet large enough to ear hang. “Ninety percent of the spat you collect to grow will not be ear hung because there just isn’t the space in the ocean to do that,” Miller points out. “So you can only hang about 10 percent. So what do you do with the other 90 percent? There’s actually a market for that size among chefs.”

Carey adds, “The nice thing is that selling these baby scallops gets you in the black sooner, it’s a little more novel and that sea-to-table story is a little quicker.”

Miller has been raising scallops in lantern nets on two 400-foot-square Limited-Purpose Aquaculture one-year leases. Other coop members also have these types of leases, and about 10 fishermen have been collecting spat. “It’s all more labor-intensive than any of us imagined,” Carey says with a rueful smile. The next step is for several fishermen to apply together for an “Experimental” (Limited-Purpose) lease which is for three years and covers up to four acres, with the requirement to share data with the state’s Department of Marine Resources. Eventually, the coop hopes its members can qualify for Standard leases of up to 100 acres for 10 years.

An obvious question is whether this type of deep-water aquaculture will raise objections from local lobstermen, whose ability to set traps might be limited by leases. Ironically, both Carey and Miller say, the tension between lobstering and scallop aquaculture is crucial to the coop’s goal of keeping profits from raising scallops “at the shore.”

Carey explains: “The money from lobstering has stayed in these coastal communities because of the owner/operator requirement, so you can never scale up lobstering—although, even so, it has been consolidated and it has become a more competitive environment. But the owner/operator requirement and the limited-entry fishery has by the very nature of its structure kept the money at the shore. So all the other fisheries, in various ways, they can be consolidated at a corporate level. So that could be true of aquaculture because there is no owner/operator requirement. There is nothing keeping a big corporation from getting massive lease sites—except for the lobster fishermen who always will have a say in limiting leases if it’s productive bottom. ‘I fish that bottom so you can’t make it a lease site.’”

Miller drives home the point: “Because lobstermen and lobstering are so important on the coast, if aquaculture is going to gain speed on the coast, the lobstermen are going to have to help usher it in.” For this reason the Maine Aquaculture Coop is primarily composed of commercial lobstermen, the very people who have a vested interest in not allowing scallop aquaculture to restrict lobstering. The lease sites Miller chose, for example, cover an area he knows from his own long experience as a lobsterman to be unproductive bottom. And he sees lobstering and scallop farming as a seamless fit. “Our model is that I can go out with my sternman and also tend my two lines of lantern baskets.”

Right now, the Maine Aquaculture Coop has a widespread membership, although the actual farming is primarily occurring in Penobscot Bay. Carey says she is also getting many email enquiries from interested fisherman all along the coast. The Island Institute has asked the coop to run their Aquaculture Business Development program in scallops and the group has also recently partnered with the University of Maine on a grant application to do some community studies about what makes aquaculture a success in rural communities like St. George and Stonington.

“We really want to be the place where fishermen who want to be involved in scallop aquaculture can come to get involved,” Carey says. “It’s exciting that so many people are interested in what we’re doing. We just want to make sure that coastal communities aren’t forgotten with all this money that is coming into the state and all this push to develop aquaculture at a commercial level.”—JW

PHOTOS: Courtesy Maine Aquaculture Coop

The amphibian cruise

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—

Wood frog

Migration is pretty cool, and the “moving from one place to another” as a survival behavior can be observed across the spectrum of the animal kingdom. From the incredible journey of Monarch butterflies, to American lobsters that seasonally move to and from deeper waters, or the springtime return (and subsequent fall departure) of brilliantly patterned and melodic Warblers—migration and its associated lessons are well represented on the St. George peninsula.

As far as the category of “late March, relatively warm, rainy night” migrations is concerned though, it’s amphibians that rule! On evenings when temperatures first reach a toasty 40 degrees (or higher), and the ground is wet with rain, wood frogs and spotted salamanders act as if a starter’s pistol has declared that a race has begun. With frogs hopping and salamanders cruising (I think that’s what they do), a somewhat chaotic scene can appear “out of nowhere” as they make their way through the woods, with some populations even crossing roads to vernal pools in hopes of breeding. A race worth running! When the timing is right, these are the nights that family drives were made for.

Vernal, or “spring” pools are bodies of water that “go completely dry” on enough of a regular basis so fish and other predators can’t establish populations within. The fewer predators, the safer life is for eggs. Young spotted salamanders and wood frogs are so reliant on these pools they are considered “vernal-pool-indicator species.” On the flip side, a pool drying up also means there is a limited time for eggs to be laid and for juvenile frogs and salamanders to mature before “the well runs dry” so to speak. Seems like a good strategy to get to the pools as quick and early as possible.

Spotted salamanders

In theory, most to all vernal-pool amphibians in an area will migrate the same night from their overwintering burrows to these temporary pools. This kind of strict schedule is, however, seldom a reality as differences in amounts of snow cover, in rain starting times, and in the distances individuals have to migrate can stretch a population’s migration length from a single night to a week or more. Some individuals go to impressive lengths to get to their vernal pools­­—spotted salamanders are known to travel up to 815 feet to get to a pool, and wood frogs have been documented migrating over 1500 feet! That’s more than some people move in a day and these amphibians are tiny!

And so every year in late March we keep an eye on the weather in hopes of predicting and observing a part of this mass amphibian migration. This year has been no different, and on the last few nights of March the conditions for amphibian migration were achieved—wet, warm and rainy! And even though there was more than a foot of snow blanketing my back yard and other places, I got in my truck, turned up the Iron Maiden music because energy is key on drives like this—and hit the roads for my first amphibian cruise at about 10:30pm. I had given the rains half an hour to soak the road but apparently it wasn’t enough time to melt much snow and I saw no migration on the roads at first. Wood frogs and spotted salamanders have no problem crossing snow, they just have to get out of the ground first!

One wood frog road crossing that I have watched the last few springs happens to face south and on this night the ground on both sides of the road was completely void of snow. To my pleasure, a handful of wood frogs greeted my headlights with a hop or two as I pulled into the “zone.” My goal was to snag a few—for educational purposes—and then “help” the others finish their crossing instead of being crushed by other cars. Catching frogs is an art form that often requires patience and stealth. But on a 40-degree night no art form is necessary as the frogs—being the coldblooded critters they are—were barely moving and barely awake. Simply walk up to ‘em and pick ‘em up—getting your hands wet first! These are good times.

The rest of the drive was quiet on the amphibian front, but the rain continued through that night and most of the next day, melting a huge chunk of the remaining snow. The roads did go dry over the course of a sunny afternoon, but fortunately the rains came back late and I found myself doing the amphibian cruise at 11pm. And what a difference a night can make! The snow was still patchy, but things had opened enough so that wood frogs and spotted salamanders were able to get their migrations going. I observed both species at several road-crossing locations, but the overall number of individuals felt low—giving the impression that there would be another night (or two!) of movement before things are over. Twist my arm and I’ll go back out! Hopefully with the family next time!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

John Bly: A ‘good life’ man

Chris and John Bly

St. George lost a valued friend this past March 25 with the sudden and unexpected passing of John A. Bly, 73, who for 35 years operated Turkey Cove Auto on land that had been a wood lot on property owned by John’s grandparents at the Turkey Cove end of Ridge Road in Martinsville. Although he had a degree in mechanical engineering from Northeastern University and for a time worked for a company that made diesel locomotives in southern California—along the way spending many happy free-time hours riding motorcycles—auto repair for John was not so much a vocation as a source of livelihood that enabled him to live the “good life” to which he dedicated himself soon after deciding to make St. George his permanent home in 1972.

Chris, John’s wife of 43 years (they first met while swimming at Atwood’s Quarry in 1974), says John often joked that he “retired” when he made the decision to settle on his grandparent’s land. It seemed a way of acknowledging that he understood himself at that moment to be leaving behind mainstream life. His bible was Helen and Scott Nearing’s influential book, Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World, which described a 19-year “back-to-the-land experiment” in simple living. By the time John had read their book the Nearings had settled in Maine at Harborside on the Cape Rosier peninsula overlooking Penobscot Bay. For a while John made weekly visits to lend a hand to—and learn from—the Nearings’ back-to-the-land enterprise. Like them, he became a committed vegetarian. He also developed a dream of building his own stone house as they had done. The Blys moved into that home in 2001.

While John and Chris spent their early years together raising and selling organic vegetables, harvesting edible seaweed, clamming and other activities, it was John’s self-taught experience repairing cars that eventually became the economic mainstay of the couple’s—and their growing family’s—life. In all, the Blys raised five children—Phoebe, Minda, Noah, Ivan and Laura.
With the help of son Noah, who began working with John when he was 13, Turkey Cove Auto kept hundreds and hundreds of St. George’s—and Monhegan’s—vehicles on the road over the years. But for John and for so many of his clients, just as important as providing a valuable automotive service, was the time spent catching up on new passions (in John’s case this involved such things as long-distance bicycle riding, learning to play the saxaphone, and ballroom dancing) and in thoughtful conversation after the bill was paid and before the freshly repaired car or truck was driven home.

A lifelong spiritual seeker, John was a man of reflection. Most recently, he had been thinking about “wabi-sabi living,” a concept he learned about at a men’s retreat in October at Tanglewood Camp in Lincolnville. “‘Wabi’” a handout from the retreat says, “describes someone who is content with little and who makes the most of whatever is at hand—always moving toward having less.” Sabi is about learning to accept the natural cycle of growth and decay.

It comes as no surprise these concepts resonated with John. They have everything to do with the sort of “good life” family, friends and neighbors know with certainty that John both embraced and achieved.

Nicholas von Hoffman, noted journalist, commentator and author

Haskell Point resident Nicholas von Hoffman, 88, died February 1 in Rockport. He was a well respected, if controversial, print journalist and media commentator who worked for the Washington Post for 10 years beginning in the late 1960s and thereafter contributed to publications including the New Republic, Esquire, Architectural Digest and the New York Observor. He commented on public affairs on “Byline,” a Cato Institute-sponsored radio show and battled with conservative columnist James J. Kilpatrick on “Point/Counterpoint” a segment of the the CBS television program “60 Minutes.” He also wrote plays and more than a dozen books, among them Citizen Cohn in 1988, a best-selling biography of Roy Cohn, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s chief counsel during the 1950s Red Scare.

Before becoming a reporter, Von Hoffman worked for community organizer Saul Alinsky in Chicago and went on to become a leader of the Woodlawn Organization which led civil rights efforts on Chicago’s South Side. He left in 1963 to join the Chicago Daily News as a reporter. He was among the first reporters to spend time in the hippie community of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, producing 16 stories about life in the district that ran on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle and formed the basis of his 1968 book, We are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against.

Katharine Graham, former publisher of the Post, wrote in her autobiography that Hoffman “had a gifted voice that represented a certain segment of the population that needed to be heard. Almost alone among American journalists of the time, von Hoffman was telling us what was in the minds of the young who felt dispossessed and unrepresented by the so-called establishment press.”

Von Hoffman lived on Haskell point for 30 years. At first he travelled back and forth between Maine and New York, but for the last 20 years he made his full-time home in Tenants Harbor. He made many friends here and will be sorely missed. A memorial service will be held in mid-May. For more information call 372-8585.

‘Invasive plants: Rip and replace’

Start in spring to identify, remove and replace invasive plants that are lurking around the edges of your property. At a talk on April 26 at the town office, experts will present methods for removing plants like himalayan balsam, japanese knotweed, purple loosestrife, and bittersweet vines. Replacing invasives with native plants can be a bonus to you as well as to the pollinators and others who share your Maine habitat. The event starts at 7 pm and refreshments will be provided. “Invasive plants: rip and replace” is sponsored by the Conservation Commission and the Friends of St. George as part of a year-long program on invasive plants.

Port Clyde plan up for vote

On May 14, 2018 residents of St. George will be asked to vote on a $2.64 million rehabilitation and development project at the former St. George Marine property at 10 Cold Storage Road, in Port Clyde. The first phase of the project was completed in 2015 when the town purchased the property, which adjoins the existing town landing. The second phase has been to develop a construction plan to repair, improve and expand the property into a facility that has adequate infrastructure to adapt to and support a wide range of future commercial and recreational activities. The final phase will begin the gradual development of a plan to use the new facility once the voters approve a construction plan.

For more information contact Harbor Master Dave Schmanska or Town Manager Tim Polky at (207-372-6363).