CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — I’ve fished for 66 years and I’ve fished for just about everything up and down Casco Bay. I’ve gone for halibut, hake and cusk, lobstered and gone line fishing, scalloping and clamming. I’ve even gone dragging.

I’ve seen a lot of things change over the years, but not this kind of pressure to take away the ocean from the public and put it into private hands. Aquaculture certainly has a place along the coast, but the scale of some of the proposals out there is just too big. It just doesn’t make sense to take it from one user group and allow it to be leased for another use. The leasing process comes down to one person who can give away the ocean bottom. That isn’t right. At my age, it isn’t about me. It’s about my relatives and my neighbors. It’s about them having the same freedom of access that I’ve had and enjoyed.

Lobstering is about the only game in town now. Think about this coast without lobstering – you can’t. It’s what I’m continuing to do as much as I can. These aquaculture leases are unfairly limiting the state’s most valuable fishery. They’ll tell you that you can fish among the mooring lines and the cages, but you really can’t. There are places I used to fish for years and I can’t physically fish there anymore. You can’t get through there, either. I’ve had traps snarled up in the buoy lines of mussel rafts in Casco Bay, and I’ve had to go out around places I used to be able to steam through.

I’ve been interested in aquaculture for a while. I even fooled with aquaculture when I had an experimental license to grow out scallops. But that was before things started to take off.

Back when the state first adopted aquaculture laws – who gets the leases, when and where – the fishermen weren’t paying much attention and gave very little input. Now that things are growing and growing fast, this has a big impact on fisheries and it seems like it is too late to have a say. As fishermen, we’re not against aquaculture. Some of us do some of it ourselves, but we do it on a smaller scale that doesn’t get in others’ way.

What we are against is the leasing process – taking the ocean out of the public domain. The state is supposed to protect that access for all its citizens, not lease it out. What’s more, the fact that a leaseholder can sell his or her lease to any other individual or corporation in or outside of Maine is a problem. This creates the possibility of a major outside business owning large portions of the Maine water. This is not right. Also, the fact that taxpayer-supported government organizations are providing financial help to those involved in aquaculture in our state creates a dangerous incentive for the industry to grow quickly and displace long-standing traditional fisheries and other ocean users.

I don’t know the impacts of all of this, and I’m not a religious guy, but think about the system of plants and animals out there. That system has evolved over a long time. I’m not saying it hasn’t changed. I’ve seen plenty of changes. But a lot of it can take care of itself, and the problem comes with human intervention. If you want to see the way it should be, you should do everything you can to support the natural systems and make sure that they continue. This scale of aquaculture is interfering with systems that have evolved to survive.

Like I said, this isn’t about me. It’s about my neighbors and the people in my community who want to keep on fishing, and it is only fair that they have the access that the state has vowed to protect and keep for us all to share. There needs to be another way to do this that protects what belongs to all of us.

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