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Friday, March 1, 2013

We all should love a Win-win

Aquaculture- In My Back Yard (IMBY)
Perry Raso working the highly successful Matunuck Oyster Farm
By Mac Richardson

According to some individuals at the Charlestown Town Council meeting on February 12, oyster aquaculture in Quonochontaug Pond waters is a bad thing.

Are you kidding?

Culturing oysters in Quonnie Pond is a good thing. And here is why. A few shellfish aquaculture leases actually cleanse Quonnie Pond, help restore the fishery, increase the chance of eelgrass restoration, and add to the esthetic appreciation of salt ponds.

Rob Krause has a Ninigret Pond 
oyster farm which reduces nitrogen and
pollution while producing delicious oysters
I have been trained, have worked, and dabbled in aquaculture for many years, both stateside and in Africa. When done correctly, aquaculture can be a boon to the environment and make waste bear fruit.

For instance, here in Charlestown, residents and businesses near our salt ponds are required to convert their waste water systems to expensive de-nitrification systems so as to minimize nitrogen inputs into our salt ponds.

Too much nitrogen in the ponds and you get excessive algal and planktonic growth, which, when the algae and plankton die, can cause hypoxia (low oxygen) and fish kills.

If oysters and other shellfish are available, they will filter out the plankton and convert the unwanted nitrogen to valuable shellfish protein, keep nitrogen levels under control, and make money for the shell fisherman to spend in our Town. A win-win situation.

The notion that oyster aquaculture might harm the fishery in Quonochontaug Pond makes no sense to me. If anything, the oysters and their respective cages only increase the fishery. Those of you who are fishermen (and fisherwomen), would you rather fish a barren sandy bottom or a site that has a natural or artificial reef?

You know that fish like structure and that is exactly what an oyster aquaculture site provides. Drop down the oyster racks and soon you will find amphipods, grass shrimp, killifish, silverside minnows, crabs, clamworms and a host of other creatures all enjoying the benefits of an artificial reef.

Next will come scup, flounder, striped bass, and bluefish and eventually, fishermen. And if the cultured oysters are allowed to spawn, their larvae will spread and settle in other parts of the pond. A win-win situation.

One of the speakers at the February 12th meeting suggested that an oyster culture operation might be damaging to eelgrass beds. To my knowledge there are no eelgrass beds at the oyster culture site, it is a sandy bottom with exposed, scattered rocks.

Having been involved with eelgrass transplanting efforts in Narragansett Bay for ten years I can tell you how difficult it is to restore lost eelgrass beds and I’m well aware of their importance to the fishery.

The way I see it, if an oyster culture operation is located in eastern Quonochontaug Pond, that only increases the possibility for the establishment of a new, natural eelgrass bed nearby (starting from seeds or rhizomes). Why, because one of the most important elements in re-establishing eelgrass is having clear, clean water. Oysters and eelgrass...another win-win situation.

And finally, during the February 12th meeting I couldn’t help noticing the paintings mounted on the wall behind our Town Councilors. The paintings (I believe by John Lutes) don’t just show plain water, they depict work and pleasure boats that use the water. As a society, we value the people who can work the waters so to complain about someone’s view being spoiled by aquaculturists on our salt ponds, I don’t buy it.

To me, there is enough value in having shellfish aquaculture in our salt ponds that the Town could consider (tongue in cheek) paying them to set up their operations.

Click here to watch and listen to the February 12th Town Council discussion on this subject.