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News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, May 22, 2014
Lower Penobscot River closure made permanent by DMR ruling

Maine DMR closes mouth of river

Approximately seven square miles of the Penobscot River in Maine are now permanently closed to fishing by Maine Department of Marine Resources rule due to high levels of mercury found in lobster and crab. The ruling followed an emergency rule issued on February 22.

Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Marine Resources

by Anne Berleant

The Maine Department of Marine Resources has permanently closed a seven-mile area on the lower Penobscot River to lobster and crab fishing.

This is no surprise as the DMR issued a similar emergency ruling on February 22, announcing the area would be closed for at least two years.

The reason behind the closure is high levels of methyl mercury found in lobsters and crabs caught there. The closed area covers seven square miles at the mouth of the river, and “is largely intended to protect the people who would fish largely and exclusively in that area,” said State Toxicologist Dr. Andrew Smith of the Maine Center for Disease Control after the emergency closure.

The closed area covers seven square miles from Wilson Point in Castine to the Fort Point Lighthouse in Stockton Springs, and affects the handful of fishermen based in Stockton Springs and Verona Island who fish in the closed area.

“There’s not a lot of lobster there,” responded Castine fisherman Josh Hatch to the emergency ruling in February.

The contamination is believed to have originated from the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington, which manufactured papermaking and other chemicals between 1967 and 1982. The company is currently a defendant in a lawsuit started by Maine People’s Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a court-ordered study stemming from that lawsuit provided information on the contamination to the DMR.

The study showed that lobsters in that area “may have mercury levels above the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention action level,” reads the ruling.

The DMR, Maine CDC and Maine De-partment of Environmental Protection plan to start collecting lobsters in and around the closed area next summer and the following seasons, Smith said, which will address the question of lobster migration. “If there’s any sort of significant movement, we’ll know something…within a year.”