BUCKSPORT - It's been almost a month since the northern part of the Penobscot River has been closed to crab and lobster harvesters. Monday a public forum was held to discuss that closure and review data compiled by a state toxicologist.
"I guess the mantra is 'sacrifice a few for the good of the many'," a man in attendance says.
High levels of toxic mercury contamination is to blame for the closure of crab and lobster fishing near the mouth of the Penobscot River.
It's an issue that harvesters have had to come to terms with for nearly a month now, but are still unsure of why a closure compared to an advisory.
"If we were to do a consumption advisory, because there's no traceability on the product (lobsters), the impact could be much broader across the fishery," Meredith Mendelson, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Marine Resources, says. "There would be no way for our consumer to know where the lobster came from one area or another."
Testing in the area from the northwestern point of Wilson Point in Castine to the Fort Point Lighthouse on Cape Jellison in Stockton Springs was conducted during the summer months.
Those results sparking additional questions.
"Has anyone ever tested the lobsters in this area that you're talking about after December 1 until about April 15," a fisherman asks.
"In order for us to work on these problems we need to really understand what the source is," a woman in attendance states.
Three separate studies were conducted testing mercury levels up and down the Maine coast, Penobscot Bay, and the Penobscot River.
"We have not analyzed it to look at differences," Dr. Andrew Smith, a state toxicologist, says. "We've just looked at it to see if it's just above or below for advisories."
However, there was less data available for crabs. Harvesters questioning why a closure for them as well.
"I want to know if the mercury content in the crabs is as high as it is for the lobsters," a crab harvester asks.
"If we're looking at where we have crab data and where we have lobster data, and they look fairly similar, then I think it's reasonable to assume that it will look similar further up in the bay as well," Dr. Smith explains.
Questions, comments and concerns for this permanent ruling will be accepted until March 28.
Mail concerns to: Department of Marine Resources, Attn: Kevin Rousseau, 21 State House Station, Augusta, ME 043330-0021 or email [email protected]