Project Report:
Protection for Eelgrass Beds: Overcoming Economic Imbalances through Marine Conservation Agreements and Community Involvement in Frenchman Bay and the Gulf of Maine
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


Eelgrass beds along the coast of Maine provide vital ecosystem services, yet their coverage has declined in recent years. In areas with good water quality, this decline may be due primarily to commercial dragging. Working collaboratively with community partners, including a commercial mussel grower, the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) in Bar Harbor, Maine, has been restoring eelgrass beds in Frenchman Bay since 2007 while conducting research on restoration methods and the ecological value of restored eelgrass. Since there is no formal way to establish restoration areas in Maine, informal marine conservation agreements with local mussel harvesters make eelgrass restoration possible. MDIBL is now partnering with multiple stakeholders from the Frenchman Bay area to create a Conservation Action Plan for the bay. As an outcome of the plan, stakeholders will take responsibility for protecting the habitats that sustain the fisheries on which the local economy depends.



Eelgrass Restoration Progress: The MDIBL 2011 field season was the most ambitious effort to date to expand eelgrass restoration efforts, test new restoration methods, include more community members in the restoration process, and document the value of eelgrass to local economies.

Eelgrass restoration efforts officially got underway during the week of April 18th-22nd, when students from inland schools participating in an MDIBL program called “Young Environmental Leaders” helped to construct biodegradable grids for eelgrass restoration. We set up experiments in three areas of Frenchman Bay in order to compare the success of biodegradable grids as compared to the traditional wire grids, which must be retrieved each spring. On June 18th, 2011, twenty-seven volunteers, including students who had helped to construct the biodegradable grids in April, worked side-by-side with scientists and student interns from MDIBL to tie eelgrass onto 80 grids and transplant eelgrass at Hadley Point in Bar Harbor and Berry Cove in Lamoine. On July 7th, 2011, a third restoration experiment, involving an additional 20 biodegradable and 20 wire grids, was set up near Thomas Island. To test the efficacy of late summer restoration projects, the Thomas Island experiment was repeated by students and teachers from a high school in Bangor, ME. Thomas Island will become a long-term study site for students and teachers from this school. At the end of the summer, plants appeared to be doing equally well on both grid types in all locations. By March 2012, the results were in: biodegradable grids work as well as wire grids and will be our preferred method of restoration in the future.

In addition to setting up experiments to test restoration methodologies, we continued to monitor our 14 acre eelgrass restoration project at Hadley Point. Water quality was good at this site at the start of our restoration project in 2007, and continues to be good five summers later. Over the last five summers, a total of 74 square meters of eelgrass have been transplanted into the restoration area. This summer, a total of 3500 square meters of eelgrass was growing over this same area—a 48-fold increase in eelgrass. The increase may be due to transplanted eelgrass spreading through its rhizomes, or to seeding from transplanted eelgrass or eelgrass outside the restoration area, or a combination of these factors.

Lobsters and Eelgrass: It is well established that eelgrass plays a crucial role in the ecosystems it inhabits. The root structure, involving rhizomes that connect plants beneath the sediment prevents small scale erosion and helps bind the sediment. The flat, tall leaves mitigate wave and current energy, and can filter nutrients from the water, and the habitat provided by eelgrass supports a large amount of biodiversity. A host of invertebrates inhabits eelgrass leaves, and many species of crustaceans and fish use eelgrass beds as nursery areas. This summer, we partnered with a local lobsterman to determine the relationship between fish by-catch levels and lobster size distribution in proximity to eelgrass beds in Frenchman Bay. Data were collected from 446 lobster traps around Frenchman Bay over a three week period, and proximity of traps to eelgrass was determined by analysis of GIS maps with eelgrass area and lobster trap coordinate overlays. There was very little fish by-catch in the traps, so an assessment of fish biodiversity could not be made. However, in an analysis of over 2,200 lobsters, small lobsters (with a carapace length greater than 3.5 inches) were significantly more prevalent than larger lobsters in proximity to eelgrass beds and large lobsters (with a carapace length between 3.5 and 5 inches) were significantly more prevalent than smaller lobsters further away from eelgrass beds. A similar result was found when assessing the relationship between lobster size distribution and proximity to shore. This finding indicates the potential importance of near shore areas in general as important habitat for juvenile lobsters. More directed studies of these near shore areas will help to inform bay planning efforts in the future.

Frenchman Bay Partners: In spring 2011, stakeholders interested in a healthy future for Frenchman Bay formalized their relationship in the creation of a new coalition called Frenchman Bay Partners (FBP). The mission of the Frenchman Bay Partners is to ensure that the Frenchman Bay area is ecologically, economically and socially healthy and resilient in the face of future challenges. Our approach is to provide means by which local stakeholders in the bay can come together to address issues in a way that does not require top down intervention or legislative action. Over the past year, Frenchman Bay Partners has worked with graduate students from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at University of Maine to conduct focus sessions and interviews with particular stakeholder groups, including commercial harvesting communities, as a prelude to our first formal bay planning retreat. Information gathered from these groups has helped to inform the bay planning process. On October 16th and 17th, 2011, a core team of stakeholders met in 2-day retreat to develop the first draft of the Frenchman Bay Plan. The retreat was supported Alex C. Walker Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and SERC (Schoodic Education and Research Center). At the retreat, the core planning team worked with facilitator Marsha Brown from Foundations of Success, an organization dedicated to providing technical support and facilitation in integrating the design, management, monitoring, and adaptation of conservation initiatives using the CMP Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation ( The planning team identified 10 conservation targets and prioritized the top four. These were:

--Sub-tidal bottom habitats
-Bottom invertebrates (lobster, cucumber, urchin, scallop, shrimp, mussels)
--Migratory fishes (between salt and freshwater)

The most severe threats to these conservation targets were identified as

--Some fishing practices
--Dams and physical obstruction to fish passage
--Invasive species
--Septic systems (bacteria and nutrient additions)

The team began the process of identifying strategies that will lead to long term sustainability and economic viability of Frenchman Bay. This work has been written-up as a first draft of the Frenchman Bay Plan and is available for public comment at

Volunteer with biodegradable grid
A volunteer prepares to tie eelgrass onto a biodegradable eelgrass grid


Economic activity has led to the degradation of eelgrass beds in the Gulf of Maine and resulted in economic imbalances. MDIBL is investigating the causes of this imbalance through scientific research into the ecological role of eelgrass. We have also dramatically increased communication among Frenchman Bay stakeholders, including the fishing and mussel dragging communities. Discussion among the stakeholders and the dissemination of research findings through stakeholder meetings, community education and activism, and the media is leading to an increased awareness of these economic imbalances and the importance of eelgrass to all fisheries.

Decisions about protected areas are ultimately market-based. Scientists and other participants at stakeholder meetings consider research data and maps and suggest various areas for protection; the exact location and boundaries of protected areas are determined by the draggers themselves, based on their knowledge of which areas are most profitable for them. Through a bay planning process, stakeholders are being invited to identify additional habitats that they view as threatened, and are being asked to help develop strategies to address those threats.


The eelgrass restoration project is based in upper Frenchman Bay in the Gulf of Maine. The project’s focus on voluntary marine conservation agreements and cooperation with the fishing community and other stakeholders makes it a potential national model for other marine restoration and conservation projects. From this project, the Frenchman Bay Partners have emerged as a coalition of individuals and organizations interested in developing a conservation action plan for the entire Frenchman Bay watershed. The conservation plan will encompass a number of different habitats and species viewed as threatened by local stakeholders.

Information Dissemination

Our eelgrass restoration and research efforts are available on the MDI Biological Laboratory website at Working together with diverse stakeholders, we have created a new website to disseminate information about efforts to protect the entire Frenchman Bay; see Posters depicting a working bay and an invitation to participate in efforts to understand and protect the bay are being prepared for dissemination to the 13 towns in the Frenchman Bay watershed. We have created a Facebook page ( and an e-newsletter as well. We will be making presentations in each of the 13 municipalities in the Frenchman Bay Watershed in the coming year.

Project Link

Amount Approved
$38,900.00 on 1/14/2011 (Check sent: 1/21/2011)

  Related Organizations
MDI Biological Laboratory  

Eelgrass grids on boat
Eelgrass grids loaded with eelgrass are ready for transport to the restoration site.

Volunteer with biodegradable grid
Map of lobster trap locations
Restored eelgrass at Hadley Point 2011
Eelgrass on biodegradable grid--9 months after transplant
Restored eelgrass map
Student interns with lobsterman
Student interns with lobsterman
Eelgrass grids on boat

159 Old Bar Harbor Road
Bar Harbor , ME 04609

After driving onto Mt. Desert Island, bear left to stay on Route 3. Drive about 4 miles, then turn left onto Old Bar Harbor Road at sign for the Lab. Turn left again onto Biol Lab Road and continue straight to parking area.

(207) 288-9880 ext 125


Dr. Jane Disney
Eelgrass Project Co-Manager
Judy Sproule
Deputy Director of Development, Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory

Posted 9/30/2010 6:09 PM
Updated   9/21/2012 2:10 PM

  • Nonprofit

Map of lobster trap locations
Student interns recorded lobster trap locations with a GPS unit and recorded by-catch and lobster data at each location.

Restored eelgrass at Hadley Point 2011
Restored eelgrass area at Hadley Point

Eelgrass on biodegradable grid--9 months after transplant
Eelgrass on biodegradable grid--9 months after transplant

Eelgrass coverage in the restoration area at Hadley Point has increased from less than 1% to approximately 14% after 5 years of restoration effort.

Student interns with lobsterman
Student interns from MDI Biological Laboratory collaborate with a local lobsterman to collect organism data in proximity to eelgrass beds

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