After nearly a year of discussion and research from the South Bristol Aquaculture Committee, members will not recommend the development of an aquaculture ordinance at the upcoming annual town meeting in the spring.
Adam Rice, a South Bristol Select Board member and member of the aquaculture committee, said at the select board’s Thursday, Jan. 25 meeting that developing an ordinance to regulate aquaculture was not within the legal authority of the town.
“There’s optimism that the state is going to listen to the towns more, but as far as the town is concerned, it’s state waters,” Rice said.
According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, which is responsible for upholding the laws pertaining to Maine waters, local municipalities don’t have jurisdiction below the low water mark.
Back in March 2023, South Bristol voters approved a 180-day aquaculture moratorium at their annual town meeting, with the aim of developing a position on the town’s involvement in the leasing process of aquaculture. This came after residents expressed concerns about congested waterways, the aesthetics of the industry on the water, and ecological concerns.
The six-person aquaculture committee was formed in August with the intention of gathering information for a position to be developed and information gathered.
However, at an aquaculture meeting in Damariscotta at Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust held on Nov. 21, 2023, Department of Marine Resources representatives said town-voted moratoria and ensuing ordinances were not legal.
At the Nov. 21 meeting, state Rep. Cameron Reny, D-Bristol, encouraged concerned citizens and municipalities to contact their local representatives to try and enact change through the legislative process, rather than through ordinances, and reminded the audience that it is not within the Department of Marine Resources’ authority to adjust the process of leasing aquaculture.
“We’re taking encouragement from our representatives that they’re willing to work with the towns,” Rice said. “It starts with being heard and then a legislative change.”
South Bristol resident John Walker asked the select board if it would consider keeping the aquaculture committee together once members articulated their position.
Rice said he was unsure, but that he’d have a better answer after meeting with members of the aquaculture committee sometime in February.
“You have my attention on it,” Rice said. “We’re not leaving the conversation.”
Rice said he and the select board would draft an official position paper for the town annual meeting, which will be held on Tuesday, March 5.
The select board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1 at the town office.