Waterways Committee Sinks Bay Scallop Experiment

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing


HARWICH — The waterways committee voted to deny an experimental bay scallop project proposed for an area eight-tenths of a mile off Pleasant Street Beach in Nantucket Sound.

The committee’s decision came after Harbormaster John Rendon expressed concerns for potential navigational conflicts with boaters during the summer. The site has already been approved for growing kelp, but the lines required are removed each May, eliminating summer navigational conflicts.

Mark Kelleher and Paul Wittenstein of Kelpeher Farms were before the committee last Wednesday seeking support for the experimental project. They were seeking a modification to an existing permit which allows two 250-foot long-lines for growing kelp, Kelleher said. The kelp farm has not proven to be commercially viable, so they want to experiment with scallops.

Wittenstein is the general manager of Aquacultural Research Corporation (ARC) in Dennis, which spawns and nurtures shellfish seed. Wittenstein said he is co-owner of Kelpeher Farms with Kelleher, and while ARC would be spawning the scallop seed, this project is separate from his position at ARC.

Natural Resources Director Heinz Proft told the committee Kelleher is presently using a natural resources department permit to experiment with growing scallops in three bags at the site. Proft made it clear the larger experiment being proposed would require its own permit.

The plan is to connect 30 to 40 lantern bags of scallops to one of the approved lines. ARC would provide the seed in August and the bags would be placed on the line in September. They would remain there to grow into the fall of 2022.

That would require the line to remain in place through one summer. The line would be located far enough offshore so as not to interfere with boating traffic using Herring River, Kelleher said. Boats turn east and west inshore of this location, and vessels heading to Nantucket would not be impacted, he said. The area of operation is a half acre located near weir traps and conch trap lines.

There would be large buoys on each end of the line along with navigational radar and smaller marker buoys every 50 feet. The long line bearing the scallop lanterns would be eight feet below the surface, Kelleher said.

The experiment could lead to economic development opportunities, Kelleher explained. He spoke of Cornell University employing similar experiments in non-productive waters in Long Island Sound that have restored bay scallops with harvests there.

Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Barnstable and Falmouth have set aside areas for aquaculture projects, which are operating without conflicts, Wittenstein said.

Kelleher said a year's use of one line should provide enough information to determine if bay scallops can be grown in the area. There are eelgrass beds nearby, and Kelleher said shellfisherman Brent Hemeon told him he used to harvest major amounts of scallops there.

Because there is a lot of boating traffic in the area, Rendon said he did not support of the long line staying in the water during the summer boating season. There needs to be more of a coordinated effort for determining where such an experiment should be located, he said, adding that modification of the kelp permit would require conservation commission and board of selectmen approval.

A couple of decades ago, Proft said, he and former Natural Resources Director Thomas Leach took a close look at where aquaculture sites could be located in Harwich. They concluded there are no locations in embayments and inlets that can accommodate aquaculture. The only suitable location, he said, would be further offshore in deeper water.

By this summer they will have a pretty good understanding whether scallops can be grown based on the three bags now have in the water, Kelleher said. With thousands of acres of water within town limits in Nantucket Sound, they might be able to find a location in deeper water, he said. Proft said he would support an operation further offshore.

Waterways committee member Daniel Casey said one of the tasks of the committee is to make sure navigation is not impeded, so he was not in favor of the bay scallop modification.

Conch fisherman Glen Fernandes said he did not see a huge navigational issue, since he can set a line of 20 conch traps in the same area without needing any approval. The town could use more shellfish in those waters, he said.

The committee approved a motion to deny the modification because it would create a navigational hazard in that particular location. Committee members, after the vote, encouraged Kelleher and Wittenstein to explore another location further offshore.