Head of Save the Bay supports aquaculture projects on island
The goals of the Jamestown Aquaculture Movement were supported by Jonathon Stone, executive director of Save the Bay, who spoke during the group’s annual meeting on June 1.
According to Stone, Save the Bay is supportive of aquaculture in general, and specifically aquaculture as a restoration tool to restore water quality throughout Narragansett Bay.
“We have our own effort underway, which we are expanding to include a greater emphasis on education,” Stone said. “We will not only be educating students about aquaculture, we will also be educating students about the connection between water quality and filter feeders, like shellfish.”
The Jamestown Aquaculture Movement holds its annual meeting each spring, and this year, Phil Larson invited Stone to present. “Every year we have a guest speaker who is allowed to let us know what they’re doing in terms of water purification or moving aquaculture forward,” said Larson, the group’s founder.
Earlier this year, JAM applied to the Coastal Resources Management Council for a permit to develop a small oyster farm in the waters of Fox Hill Cove. The purpose of the farm would be educational in nature, giving the general public an idea of what a floating oyster farm would look like.
“It would be a chance for the school kids to get up close and take a look,” Larson said. He added that he has already laid out a curriculum for Jamestown’s sixth grade.
When the oysters are grown to maturity, they would become part of an oyster restoration program at Roger Williams University.
“One of the great things about the Jamestown Aquaculture Movement is the role that it plays in public education about shellfish,” said Stone, “both as an opportunity for Rhode Island to generate job growth and a sustainable fishery.”
Larson said that he has run into problems with his permit application because current state environmental regulations allow aquaculture to take place only in open waters, which defeats Larson’s purpose of allowing the public – particularly students – to observe the process.
“It doesn’t do any good to have the program in a place where peo- ple can’t usually access it,” Larson said. “Generally, every place that an oyster wants to grow around Jamestown is either in closed or conditional waters.”
Aside from the educational aspect of JAM, Larson points out that shellfish farming can have a positive effect on the cleanliness of the water. As an example he cited the fact that a mature oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day.
Larson said people ask why he wants to grow oysters, and not clams or mussels. “It’s because of that capacity,” Larson said.
Another roadblock in the permitting process is that requirement that JAM makes a request to DEM to monitor the site of the farm. Since DEM doesn’t have the funds or manpower for such an effort, Larson is left trying to consider other ways to meet the monitoring requirement.
“I’m trying to figure out a way that the site can be monitored in such a way that will satisfy DEM,” Larson said. “CRMC cannot support the effort if we don’t have enforcement.”
According to Larson, the aquaculture movement is important for a variety of reasons. First among these is the fact that the cost of imported seafood is second only to oil imports in this country.
“With our coastline, to say that we can’t supply the seafood just doesn’t make sense,” Larson said. “There are only 30 active [marine farmers] in Rhode Island who are making money. In Massachusetts there are more than 200. There’s a disconnect in trying to get that industry up and running in Rhode Island. Every coastline state should be doing the same thing.”
Stone said that Save the Bay’s aquaculture efforts have focused primarily on scallops and soon will include mussels. It also has an eye toward shellfish cultivation for restoration work in areas of closed waters. That would include places like the cove at Portsmouth, the Providence River, or the Narrow River, which is also considered closed waters.
Stone added that anytime that you have an organization or institution that is helping to create public awareness around aquaculture and shellfish, it is a good thing.
“I always get a charge from spending time on the island because so many people in Jamestown are aware and connected to the resource that surrounds the island on a level that you don’t see in every community in our state,” he said.
According to Larson, he was pleased to see a good turnout at this year’s meeting, which included the presence of several young adults.
“The bottom line is that in 1911, in today’s dollars, the market value of oysters coming out of Narragansett Bay was $135 million,” Larson said. “So it is an industry. An industry that should be brought back.”
Said Stone, “I’m really grateful for the invitation from Phil, Jamestown is a really special place. In my experience people who live and visit Jamestown are really connected to the bay. That’s why they’re there. They really care a lot about the health of the environment.”