Water Quality, Stewardship, and the Health of Frenchman Bay: panel discussion summary

The following questions were posed to the panelists: 

  • What do you think about water quality in your work?
  • How does it affect what you can do? 
  • Do you want or need more information?
  • How do you think water quality has changed through time in Frenchman Bay?

Shep Erhart, Founder, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables

The reversing falls at Tidal Falls is very important for nutrients and very good for seaweed including kelp, dulse, nori (porphyra), sea lettuce, fucoids and asco. Alaria is harvested out farther, including around ironbound and egg rock, and has also been harvested around the Schoodic peninsula.

I’m grateful for all the monitoring in upper Taunton Bay. No major rivers below here, which is why we don’t buy from west of here. So we collect or harvest from east of Frenchman Bay. 

Seaweed has no gastrointestinal tract, but it does accumulate heavy metals including arsenic, lead, and chromium, though the metals are well chelated with the polysaccharides. It is possible that heavy metals are not bioavailable from seaweed consumption because of this bonding. Nevertheless, seaweed people are concerned about metals. 

I have several concerns about potential sources of water quality contamination. There is a blueberry factory way up in the bay. What does that factory effluent do to bay water quality? And what about the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR), but they’re being careful and they do their own monitoring. There’s a shellfish plant by the bridge. Do they wash the shellfish there, and how might that impact water quality? 

Nutrient levels are very strong in Frenchman Bay. There’s aquaculture in the bay–things are growing like crazy, including at Hadley Point, Thomas Island, and Berry Cove.

There are fish pens at Preble Island. I understand that they monitor for inorganic arsenic.

Joe Porada, Clam harvester, and member of the local shellfish commission

The “610 project” mentioned earlier has been very successful. Dwelly Point/Spring creek  has a conditional opening–January thru July. Next year it will be open from June-July. There are a lot of seed clams there. Ten to twelve harvesters harvested 70,000 pounds of clams. Bacteria that contribute to harmful algal blooms (HAB) is low, which is why this is a good area for aquaculture, especially shellfish.

As an illustration of the value of this region for the shellfish industry, In Frenchman Bay roughly 60-65 members grossed $1.5 million, including everyone from part-timers to people who’re out full time.

Water quality is just as important to the shellfish industry as settlement and predation.

I started digging clams in 1983, and I just stayed away from state-closed areas. There has been a gigantic upswing in the number of flats that have been opened. There are also closed clam flats that have no recruitment. Some are around the Skillings River. They’re just non-productive.

I have questions about why those areas aren’t producing. Are clams setting? Are the milky ribbon worms and crabs a problem, or temperature? However, this year, we’re not seeing a large number of crabs.

Most of the clammers are very happy with the productivity of Frenchmay Bay for our industry.

Sarah Redmond, Owner, Springtide Seaweed, a seaweed aquaculture company

(Ms. Redmond’s work is inherently place-specific, whereas other harvesters move around the Bay)

The ocean is our public resource, and a system that connects us all. It’s a public resource that we have the ability to influence the quality of. Frenchman Bay is an incredible place. We could be working together to understand this system. 

I grow seaweed off Sorrento, and now off Stave Island. This is fall to spring work.

Water quality has a direct impact on my work because we rely on a seawater nursery that is affected by micro-organisms. We take water right from South Gouldsboro. 

Winter nutrients in the water increase because there’s no microalgae to compete with. We maintain organic certification, and so the siting of our farm in an area with high water quality is essential.

We’re also affected by temperature, weather, and precipitation. We have to pay attention to what’s settling, and at what time of year. I’m concerned about chemical impacts, including what are we putting in the water, and what’s already in the water? We need a baseline. But, how do we measure that? What about microplastics? I notice changes every year, and I want to look at changes through time, and attach it to historical information (in the record, as well as living history). “Picture and direction matter.”

Conditions are different every year. There was a massive mussel seed set this year. What are settling at different times? There’s a lot of fishing in Frenchman Bay. What are the boats doing, and how are they contributing to changes in Bay water quality?

Audience questions – posed, but not necessarily answered

  • You briefly mentioned microplastics and heavy metals that can impact your ability to sell your product. What about brownfields sites? In Kilkenny Stream, there was a long history of dumping from the old tannery. Then the draggers turn up the sediments. What about mosquito spraying on Hancock Point or spraying on blueberry fields.
  • We have been getting larger bursts of rain lately, such as 2” of rain in a storm. What happens when there is more rain? We need stream gauges or rain gauges. (There are stream/ river measuring stations, as well as rain gauges around the Frenchman Bay region.)
  • What about changing rain patterns?
  • There has been extensive cruise ship monitoring. It is hard to find a day when there isn’t a cruise ship in Frenchman Bay. We’ve been monitoring every 2-3 years. We could do consistent monitoring in specific locations. There are some places where there are not cruise ships, but are similar in flow, etc. We have measured heavy metals and microplastics in cruise ship areas, and found no contamination.
  • I wonder what is the status of the microbiome around cruise ships. However, this is hard to measure, and expensive to do routinely. But, we could piggyback on another study already funded, and that would be a good thing. Bar Harbor benefits from the cruise ships, but all residents and visitors around Frenchman Bay would benefit from enhanced water quality data.