STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine (NEWS CENTER) --- Maine lobster fishermen are losing some fishing grounds because of concern over mercury contamination at the mouth of the Penobscot River.
The Department of Marine Resources plans to close seven square miles on the river to lobster fishing and crabbing. The state is taking the step because lobsters caught in that area showed high levels of mercury. It's contamination that state environmental officials say is tied to a shuttered chemical plant in Orrington that is in the middle of a lengthy legal battle over cleanup at the site.
The seven square miles at the river's end that will soon be off limits go from Fort Point in Stockton Springs over to Wilson Point in Castine. Areas north of those two points on the Penobscot would also be closed off.
Officials with the marine resources department say the elevated mercury levels in that area aren't extremely high. Even if a person were to consume lobster that might be affected it would only pose a concern for young children as well as pregnant women.
"The levels in the lobster within the closed area are similar to what you would find in canned white tuna," said department spokesperson Jeff Nichols, "and a level that would trigger consideration of a consumption advisory."
The closure is set to take effect on February 22, 2014.
The Maine People's Alliance is already pointing to the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington as the source of the contamination. The site, which is currently owned by Mallinckrodt, had a long history of getting rid of mercury by using the river. Maine's Department of Environmental Protection says studies do link mercury in the Penobscot to HoltraChem.