Shay and Josh Conover, owners of Islesboro Marine Enterprises, have applied for a 20-year aquaculture lease of 6 acres northeast of Flat Island in Penobscot Bay, and the Department of Marine Resources has determined the application is complete, according to an April 1 DMR press release.

Reached by phone, Shay told The Republican Journal the couple's mussel farm, Marshall Cove Mussels, is coming to the end of its 3-year experimental lease and is applying to lease 2 more acres in addition to the 4 it has been farming to allow for future expansion. She explained that the experimental lease is designed to allow new aquaculture businesses to test the commercial viability of a particular patch of ocean before applying for a standard 20-year license.

"It's been a tough year for everybody," she said, with the pandemic cutting restaurant hours, or outright shutting them down, but Marshall Cove is holding its own. When the pandemic first hit, she said, Marshall Cove sold a lot more product direct to retail customers, but now it is slowly rebuilding its business with restaurant distributors, and she is cautiously optimistic that sector will rebound.

Down the road, Conover said, the business hopes to grow kelp, which is also included in the lease application. She said studies have shown that having kelp next to the mussels helps their shells grow stronger and also makes them grow faster. In addition, kelp offers environmental benefits, she said.

The next step in the lease process will be an inspection of the aquaculture operation by DMR staff, who will then write a report of their findings. Finally, there will be a public hearing where interested parties can offer testimony.