Island aquaculture plan flexes its mussels
Martha's Vineyard is a name synonymous with fresh seafood. If an ambitious plan to enhance the local fishing economy and promote shellfish aquaculture is successful, locally raised mussels could one day appear on Island menus.
The Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group (MVSG) is working with the towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah to create four aquaculture zones. The designation would allow the towns to permit fishermen to raise mussels using an innovative open ocean system developed by researchers at the University of New Hampshire's Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center and Open Ocean Aquaculture Program.
On Tuesday June 3 at 7:40 pm the Chilmark selectmen will hold a public hearing on a proposal to create two offshore aquaculture zones, a 10-acre site in the waters north of Nomans Land and another covering 15 acres in Vineyard Sound off Cape Higgon.
West Tisbury will hold a hearing at 4:30 pm Wednesday for a 25-acre site off Lamberts Cove. Aquinnah will hold a hearing sometime this month for a 25-acre zone located near the Chilmark site off Nomans.
Rick Karney, MVSG director, is the point man for the project, but the towns are the applicants for the purposes of securing state and federal permits and grants. The idea is to clear the way for local fishermen through an otherwise daunting permitting process.
Mr. Karney said initial experiments in Vineyard waters have been promising in terms of mussel survival and growth rates. He said the shellfish group expects to receive funding to set up two full demonstration farms next year based on the New Hampshire model. It has also received $5,000 and assistance from the Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha's Vineyard to help with the permitting.
Mr. Karney said the plan is to set up two working farms with assistance from Richard Langan, director of the Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center and Open Ocean Aquaculture Program. Island fishermen would work the farms, providing information on conditions and hopefully a commercial product that would then be sold. Ultimately the farms would be turned over to the fishermen.
How it works
The system used at the mussel farm developed at UNH is designed to avoid gear and turf conflicts while providing optimum growth conditions for the blue mussel, a popular and fast growing shellfish distributed worldwide in most polar and temperate waters and found from North Carolina to Canada.
A longline is suspended between lines attached to two buoys set 600 feet apart. The longline is anchored at each end by a two-ton granite block and suspended by submersible floats at mid-depth, about 40 feet below the surface in the Vineyard version.
The longline acts as a backbone for a series of looped grow-out ropes. Seed mussels are attached to the ropes and allowed to grow to market size, a process that takes about 12 months, based on initial reports.
Mr. Karney said he has spent a lot of time speaking with local fishermen and other interested parties to minimize conflicts. The public hearings are a requirement but also provide a way to hear if there are any issues or concerns he said. "Hopefully, we've put them in places where we are not going to have any conflicts," he said.