2017-08-03 / News

Aquaculture farming upsets West Ferry neighbors

BY TIM RIEL

During their July meeting, the town councilors received the 2016 aquaculture report from state coastal officials, which outlined the economic value of the Ocean State’s burgeoning shellfish industry.

“Rhode Island aquaculture is a major part of the local seafood movement and is fulfilling the increasing demand for all seafood,” the report by the Coastal Resources Management Council concluded. “The steady growth of aquaculture and the diversification of species and methods illustrate the industry’s response to consumer demands.”

Coincidentally, Alan Katz’s feelings on aquaculture also were on the agenda. “As predicted, things here in Dutch Harbor have progressed from bad to worse,” wrote the Westwind Drive resident. “The boats are here every day adding more and more floats, cages and buoys in the water. It looks absolutely terrible. There is less and less safe room for boating, kayaking and swimming.”

The battle between West Ferry homeowners and the booming aquaculture industry has re-surfaced following the installation of a kelp farm in the West Passage. The neighbors first approached the town in the fall about the eyesore created from the cages and floats. According to Katz, there have been 400 cages and 800 black floats installed since then, with permits allowing for that number to be tripled.

“It has transformed what was one of the most scenic vistas in all of Rhode Island into a large commercial site,” he said.

The newest problem, however, is more tangible. Neighbors are now complaining about “a tremendous amount of seaweed and slimy green algae” at beaches near the mouth of the Great Creek.

“We have never seen that in the 17 years we have owned our property,” Katz said.

Council President Kristine Trocki said it was important to balance the fishing industry with the preservation of scenery. Coastal officials, however, haven’t heeded the town’s concerns, including objections from the conservation board.

“This is a jurisdictional issue and we don’t have jurisdiction,” Trocki said.

Katz agreed the state hasn’t cooperated, citing a hearing in Providence last fall concerning the kelp farm.

“We were kind of blown off,” Katz said. “Their mind was made up before we got there.”

Town Administrator Andy Nota, who was at that meeting, said one of the Coastal Resources Management Council board members recommended a study of the water surrounding Jamestown. A similar study at the salt pond in Point Judith concluded aquaculture hampered recreation in that area. While the state made adjustments there, Nota said the coastal council has another view of Narragansett Bay.

“They look at the size and scale different,” he said. “It’ll be new data.”

Nota, however, did say he would discuss the financial aspects of a potential study with the state.

Ted Sybertz, of 60 Westwind Drive, recommended the town consider enforcement at Fort Getty to curb the problem. Although the councilors have no jurisdiction over the bay, the town does govern Fort Getty, which includes the boat ramp used by these aquaculture farmers.

According to the state report, the number of aquaculture farms increased from 61 to 70 in 2016, increasing the cultivation to 274 acres, up 33 acres from 2015. The combined value of consumption and seed sales was $5.1 million.

“When fishing boats leave for the day, they take everything back with them,” Katz said. “The aquaculture boats just keep leaving more and more equipment. This is scenic vista pollution.”

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