You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Boaters fear losing treasured waters to aquaculture in Scituate

The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. logo The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. 11/29/2019 By Wheeler Cowperthwaite For The Patriot Ledger, The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
a group of people in a boat on a body of water: Baymen set out to harvest oysters and tend their plots in Duxbury Bay in March 2018. Scituate is considering allowing oyster farming in Briggs Harbor. © Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger/The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass./TNS Baymen set out to harvest oysters and tend their plots in Duxbury Bay in March 2018. Scituate is considering allowing oyster farming in Briggs Harbor.

SCITUATE – As the town of Scituate moves toward opening a small harbor to commercial shellfish farming, residents and community groups in neighboring Cohasset say they fear the enterprise could threaten the way the waters between the two towns have been used for over 100 years.

The Scituate selectmen are considering shellfishing regulations that would initially allow up to 15 acres in Briggs Harbor to be leased to private shellfishing farmers for their exclusive use. But representatives from two Cohasset boating clubs said they are concerned that the calm and sheltered waterway they have historically used to train boaters, some as young as 5, will be taken away.

"Right now, we can put novices out there without worry," said former Cohasset Yacht Club commodore William McGowan.

The idea of allowing oyster farming in Scituate waters has percolated in town for years, but the most recent initiative started in September 2018, when Jamie Davenport, who runs a commercial shellfishing operation in East Dennis, went to the selectmen to propose opening Scituate to commercial aquaculture. Davenport said he made a similar suggestion years earlier but was denied by former Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi.

An advisory committee, which drafted the regulations for commercial shellfishing in Scituate, began meeting in February 2019, with Davenport appointed its chairman. Davenport has said he wants to develop his own aquaculture business in Scituate, according to meeting minutes. He did not return a request for comment.

The committee's proposal calls for a pilot program covering 15 acres in Briggs Harbor — an offshoot of Cohasset Harbor that dips into Scituate, roughly between Scituate Neck and Wood Island — that would include three to five farmers each receiving up to 3 acres to lease. The selectmen have not yet voted on the proposal and Scituate Town Administrator Jim Boudreau said board members have indicated that they'd like a "much smaller" pilot program to see if oyster farms can operate in the area without impinging too much on recreation.

Boudreau said the earliest the regulations would be heard is at the next selectmen's meeting in December, in part to give the town time to get input from people in Cohasset.

"The adoption of the regulations is only the first step in a lot of steps," Boudreau said.

Under the proposed regulations, the right of public navigation through the harbor would be "infringed upon" in areas containing approved shellfishing structures that have been marked. Shellfish farmers would pay $100 per application and $25 per acre per year to operate in the harbor. For the pilot project, that would mean up to $375 in revenue for the town per year, for 15 acres, according to the draft regulations.

Among the proposal's critics are representatives of two Cohasset boating associations who say aquaculture in the harbor would eliminate an important area used to teach children and adults how to boat and sail.

McGowan, the former Cohasset Yacht Club commodore, said his group uses Briggs Harbor, and the area proposed for the aquaculture, because it is out of the main harbor channel and out of the way of motorboats, commercial fishermen, Jet Skis and other traffic heading into or out of the larger Cohasset Harbor. The yacht club has been using the waters since it was founded in 1894.

McGowan said he doesn't yet know whether the space set aside for aquaculture would be totally off limits for recreational boaters or whether it could still be used when the tide comes in. But he said he's heard stories of sailboats capsizing on top of oyster farms and sailors getting tangled in the equipment.

"It's infrequent, but it happens," McGowan said.

McGowan raised his concerns at a Nov. 20 meeting in Cohasset hosted by Harrison and Scituate Selectmen Chairman Anthony Vegnani. An estimated 55 to 70 people from both towns attended.

"We stated our concerns, of the yacht club, the sailing club and kids wandering down there," he said. "Nobody here's dealt with an oyster farm before."

Cohasset Sailing Club Commodore Brian Kilma said he shares McGowan's concerns.

"Just like at the yacht club, we've had almost 60 years of programs where we've had free access to those waters," Kilma said.

McGowan said closing the calmest, most protected portion of the harbor so a few farmers can raise shellfish means those learning how to sail would be pushed to more treacherous waters.

"It would be harder to manage," he said. "That body of water is perfect for us."

But Craig Rosenquist, a member of the committee that drafted the shellfishing proposal, said it's possible for water recreation and aquaculture to coexist, as they do on Cape Cod.

"It's a pretty low-profile operation," he said.

Some critics also doubt whether the pilot would attract any oyster farms at all. Peter Marathis, who owns land next to the tide flats where the oysters would be farmed, said he doesn't believe Scituate will ever become a destination for its shellfish, as Wellfleet has on the Cape. He noted that 29 other communities in Massachusetts allow for commercial aquaculture.

"This is a pipe dream," he said. "There'll probably never be more than three oyster farmers, never more than half a dozen."

If Griggs Harbor aquaculture does take off, the draft regulations being considered by selectmen already have a name for the bivalves grown there: "Scituate Oysters."

———

©2019 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

Visit The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. at www.patriotledger.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From The Patriot Ledger

The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon