2016-02-04 / Letters to the Editor

Aquaculture helps preserve ecosystem

By Phil Larson

I’m writing in response to the article concerning aquaculture applications for the area north of the Great Creek outflow (“Conservationists want shellfish farms in Dutch Harbor relocated,” Jan. 21).

The article references a 1894 painting by William Trost Richards from his eyes at Mackerel Cove looking toward the creek. Just below the surface of the water are millions of oysters thriving, each filtering 50 gallons of water per day. The reef they created is enormous and thousands of years in the making. Millions of larva from thousands of marine species are sheltering in the nooks and crannies of the oyster reef. Greater sunlight penetration due to the clear water promotes massive quantities of plants to thrive, again providing more cover for the immature fish and shellfish to find cover. With each outflow of the tide, those animals are swept into Dutch Harbor and Narragansett Bay to mature.

What you would see now, if you could find the proper vantage point, is something quite different. No oysters, no reef and impaired biodiversity. You wouldn’t be distracted by the floats of an oyster farm, but assaulted by a congested mooring field sitting in polluted water. The idyllic picture has given way to the dense brush of invasive species hiding most of the view, phragmites choking the marsh, large homes and a brick treatment plant. If most of us would kindly leave the island with our homes, cars and boats, and return the land to sheep and farmers, the view, both above and below the surface, would again return — after a few hundred years.

So how do we restore the bay while preserving the viewscape? There are presently three applicants looking to establish marine farms in the area. Small aquaculture farms serve many important services, including new jobs, local food security and a cleaner bay. Oysters are the cornerstones of biodiversity via ecosystem restoration.

When the applications are carefully reviewed, these farms will only be viewed from standing on Chase farm or by boat. So what would be seen? Buoys, like those attached to lobster pots or in a mooring field, a string of floating cages, and periodically a farmer to operate the farm. Each proposed lease is from 2 to 3.86 acres, certainly not large by any standards.

Would this truly ruin the inherent beauty of the area? Do you smile when you see working farms and technology that serves the best interest of our environment and health?

Just north of the area is an 8-acre aquaculture farm owned by American Mussel Inc. They are marked with white buoys. Just north of that lease is a 5-acre oyster farm owned by Jamestowner Mark Goerner. He has moved from submerged floats to floating gear. He hopes to add seaweed to his farm. They can be seen from the Jamestown Bridge and are marked with yellow buoys. With these farms, it is unlikely that additional nearshore permits will be requested around the island due to poor water quality, eelgrass fields and heavy seas during storms.

A wonderful paper written by professor Michael Rice of the University of Rhode Island stated 20 percent of Narragansett Bay in 1910 was leased for oyster farming. Just imagine the shoreline infrastructure to handle the boats and harvest. That year the farm gate value of the oysters was $135 million in today’s value.

The 2014 aquaculture report from by the Coastal Resources Management Council states that the oyster value was approximately $5.2 million. The total farm acreage was 206 acres operated by 55 marifarmers. Also, it is mandated that no more than 5 percent of any body of water can be used for aquaculture farming.

Restoring and preserving the ecosystem of the past is the structure of conservation we should all wish to achieve.

The author is a resident of Melrose Avenue and the founder of the Jamestown Aquaculture Movement. He is active with shellfish programs at the University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams University, and with the state Department of Environmental Management. He has a zoology degree from the University of Maine.

Return to top