HARWICH — Aquaculture is certainly a growth industry on the Cape and producing seed shellfish is essential to marine farming. There are ongoing efforts in the Herring River to develop a shellfish nursery and the conservation commission has now approved a mobile nursery along the edge of Allen Harbor.
Fran Zarette, the owner of the former fish house on the Herring River, has been doing battle with a neighbor
for more than a year on permitting to reconstruct that building to lease to Aquacultural Research Corporation to establish a shellfish nursery there.
Brandon Small was before the conservation commission a couple of weeks ago and received a negative determination of applicability which will allow him to place a mobile nursery at Allen Harbor Marine Service, Inc. to grow out shellfish seed for sale to local aquaculturists on the Cape.
“It's introductory, it's a learning process and I'm feeling out the potential,” Small of his proposal.
Small's plan is to locate a 26-foot long and eight-and-a-half-foot wide flatbed aluminum trailer on the west side of the boatyard. The trailer will hold a 20-foot long, eight-and-a-half- foot wide and nine-foot high wood shed on top. The shed will have four windows and two barn-style swinging doors.
The interior of the shed will have an upwelling system, a main water tank 15 feet by five feet and four feet tall. There will be 10 silos in the tank where oyster seed is located. The shed will be located just off the harbor on the boatyard property, drawing water from the harbor to feed juvenile shellfish seed.
Small told the commission he seeks to grow seed from one to 12 to 15 millimeters then sell it to the farmers. It was estimated it will take two to three months to grow out the seed to a size that is marketable to shellfish farmers and as it is sold, new seed would be placed in the nursery. The plan is to purchase seed from ARC in Dennis or a nursery in Maine and the system should be able to hold a million seed. He said there has been potential interest from local aquaculturists in purchasing his product.
Conservation Administrator Amy Usowski said the trailer would be on wheels, movable with the tank in which the seed is placed and the harbor water is pumped over the shellfish providing the nutrients. She said the trailer will be placed in a gravel location, about a 50-foot area, she equated it to the size of a boat trailer. Usowski said she does not think it meets the definition of a trailer under zoning. She said the area is a residential zone, but aquaculture activities are exempt from local zoning.
The conservation administrator asked if the lines feeding water into the tanks would be affixed to the dock or just placed in the water. Small said the plan is to attach the lines to the bulkhead there. Harbormaster John Rendon said this week he has no problem with the proposal as long as it does not impede navigation.
Usowski said the permit would run for three years and the trailer would be removed over the winter when AHMS uses the area for winter boat storage. Small originally cited the use of the trailer from May 1 through Sept. 30. The conservation administrator said she doesn't see any impacts on the resource area, stating it's no different that boat storage. She also pointed out oyster and shellfish in general help clean coastal waters.
Conservation Commission Chairman Walter Diggs said this is the first time they have had an upwelling system before them. It was pointed out the town's natural resources department operates one in its nursery in Wychmere Harbor. Diggs asked why use Allen Harbor?
Small said the AHMS site is a good location on the harbor. He also cited the waters there, like those in Wychmere Harbor where the town nursery is located, provide plenty of nutrients to feed the shellfish.
Commission member John Rossetti wanted to know if there would be noise from the pump that might disturb homes along the harbor. He also wanted to know about lighting and security.
Small said there would be no noise from the upwelling system, which he described as a simple 110 volt pump, which would be contained inside the shed. There would be no impact outside the trailer, he said.
The proponent said the oysters would need tending to every other day, with the silo screens needing to be brushed to remove buildup and to separate oysters growing at different rates. Commission member Rob Mador wanted to know where the brushed material goes. Small said it is flushed back into the harbor.
There are no chemicals or other products introduced, only the harbor water and the byproduct of the shellfish, Small said.
Commission member Brad Chase called it an “interesting project.” He wanted to know what other permits are required. Small said he needs a buying and selling permit from the state Division of Marine Fisheries.
Chase also wanted to known if the system might have an impact on natural shellfish growing in the harbor, whether that seed might end up in the system. Small said he has filters to contain material passing through the upwelling system into the silos.
Small had cited plans to operate from May to the end of September and removing the system form the site. Chase asked at what water temperature the oysters would stop feeding. Small said that happens at about 44 degrees. Chase suggested allowing the system to continue operating until the end of October. Small said that would be acceptable.
Mador also wanted to know what plans Small had should a “hurricane come ripping up the coast.” Small said he would remove the system from that location, citing the seed as having the ability to survive for a while on dry land. He said he would not want to lose the shed system and the seed by leaving it there.
Commission member Carolyn O'Leary said the proposed location starts to encroach on the wetland growth at the edge of the harbor so she recommended the proposed trailer be moved back five to seven feet. Small said he expected that could be done and he would discuss it further with AHMS owner Craig LeBlanc.
With no further questions the commission issued a negative request on the determination of applicability, allowing the project to move forward. Small said he expected to begin growing the oyster seed there in June.