Islander applies for permit to grow clams in Sheffield Cove
Islander Phil Larson wants to plant a small oyster farm in Narragansett Bay, and he has applied for a state aquaculture permit to grow shellfish – Eastern oysters, hard clams and soft-shelled clams – in Sheffield Cove. The farm is an educational venture and will teach school children and the public about biodiversity, he said.
“My plan proposes to grow the oysters using the floating bag system and growing clams on the bottom beneath the bags under protective netting,” he wrote in the proposal.
“When the oysters reach 32 millimeters,” he went on, per state Department of Environmental Management rules, “they will be moved to floats in DEM designated open waters off Fox Hill Pond out flow where they will grow to maturity. Fox Hill Cove area has been a common site for oyster settlement when natural sets have occurred.”
Larson was among a half dozen applicants who discussed their ideas at a recent Shellfish Advisory Panel meeting on Jan. 11. He was accompanied by islander Robb Roach, a documentary filmmaker, who is participating in the project. John Fantoli, an engineer, also of Jamestown, and Portsmouth resident Ken Haslam, a wholesale marketer, also are working on the project.
At the meeting, Larson answered questions from other commercial and recreational fishermen about his plan, which calls for sinking some 30 floats in a 100-by-10-foot section of the cove.
In a telephone interview later, he said his point was to show the oyster farm would not interfere with any existing commercial fishing, boating or recreational activities.
“I cleared a hurdle,” he said. Larson was referring to when the state panel voted to kick the can down the road and send his application along to Marine Fisheries without any objections.
But he still has many hurdles to go before the application is decid- ed, he acknowledged. Larson said he must gain the backing of the Town Council and the Department of Environmental Management, which typically does not allow aquaculture in closed waters.
Sheffield Cove was closed two years ago due to questions about pollution. And that DEM objection may not be the only hurdle he must overcome.
According to Laura Dwyer, spokeswoman for the Coastal Resources Management Council, Larson will have to make his case at an upcoming public hearing before the CRMC.
That’s standard practice when anyone objects to a proposal during the 30-day public comment period, she said.
Several people did object to Larson’s project, according to a letter from David Beutel, the CRMC’s aquaculture coordinator.
Specifically, Beutel listed five objections, which came in a letter, two email messages and a telephone call. The people who commented said that the project seemed to be commercial, not “research/educational,” because some of the shellfish would go to the participants. Two objections dealt with the issue of closed waters.
Beutel listed the following comments in his letter to Larson:
1. This appears to be a commercial operation rather than a research/ education proposal.
2. It is not clear what amounts of shellfish will be used for restoration and spawning (which must be given to DEM Fish & Wildlife).
3. It is not clear what amount of shellfish will be divided among the participants (which makes it appear commercial).
4. The tracking plan is insuffi cient to follow the shellfish from “closed water” sites to consumption by participants.
5. The growout area is a seasonally closed area and requires DEM Enforcement oversight to work in the area; the nursery area is in permanently closed water; this project would require permission from the director of DEM.
“One comment was that no research/ educational projects should be encouraged for closed waters,” Beutel elaborated. “Another comment was that research in closed waters should be conducted by an institution, not an informal collection of individuals using a research/educational permit for themselves.”
He added that if all of the shellfi sh were given to DEM, that objection might be countered.
Larson said he wasn’t selling any oysters but did expect to give some shellfish to the people who financed the project. Five people had put up $500 each, and he wanted to see they received some oysters in recognition. He has estimated they would divide 500 oysters among them. He also wanted to reserve some 500 oysters for fundraising.
Larson doesn’t anticipate making any profit from the enterprise at all, he said.
That’s in line with most aquaculture permit applications, Dwyer said. Annually, the state receives between two and four commercial applications – the rest are for research.
“People need to be educated,” Larson said. He sees his project, which will help teach Lawn Avenue School students and the public about the science of aquaculture, as another way to connect people to locally grown food.
Larson said he believed he might not be required to follow the usual protocol because he is actually applying for a sub-permit as an educational operation, but Dwyer said that’s not the case.
Larson’s answers and the minutes of that meeting will be incorporated into staff reports in advance of a public hearing before the Coastal Resources Management Council, Dwyer said.
Beutel said Larson will have to respond to all the issues and objections or the CRMC will deny his application.