Cape Poge is wrong location for aquaculture

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To the Editor:

The longstanding tradition of Islanders making a living working the waterfront is a significant part of our heritage here on the Vineyard. It is, frankly, an integral part of the historical fabric of our community, which is likely why so many have grappled so hard to protect it. It seems clear that going forward in the modern era, the future of this ritual is trending toward aquaculture rather than traditional commercial fishing practices. This development is likely a good thing, particularly for wild stocks, but it’s incumbent upon us as a town to usher in this transition in a mindful, sensible, and informed manner that considers the wishes and needs of those currently involved or hoping to become involved in aquaculture businesses while simultaneously protecting the interests of the public and conserving the natural pulchritude of our estuaries and near-shore waterways.

Expansion of oyster farm grants into Cape Poge is premature and misguided. Simply put, Cape Poge is a wildlife refuge. It is an important nursery for fish, both fin and shell, and is incredibly valuable as a recreational area for Islanders, seasonal residents, and visitors alike. Many have fought tooth and nail to maintain the pristine nature of the pond and its surrounding lands since the Trustees acquired the property in the late 1950s, and likely before that. Although shellfish farming is a sustainable, low-impact, and even environmentally beneficial practice in theory, it is none the less a commercial operation, and one that is particularly equipment-profuse. Barges, rafts, scows, cages, bags, lines, buoy fields, pressure washers, tumblers, trucks, and vans are just some of industrial apparatuses that accompany oyster cultivation. Unlike the paraphernalia associated with the limited commercial fishing activity that currently occurs in the pond, this gear is semi-permanent, as anyone who’s attempted to navigate Katama Bay in the past 15 or so years can attest.

I am intimately familiar with the challenges facing young people trying to make a life and a living here on the Vineyard (particularly from the sea), and, believe me, I’m most sympathetic to their desire to stay and to thrive. But to run roughshod over one of a small handful of truly undisturbed natural habitats left on the Island in an attempt to help achieve that end is shortsighted and imprudent. Prior to the discussion of Cape Poge as a potential location for aquaculture grants, we should first explore any and all potential alternatives, and subsequently analyze their pros and cons in hopes of coming to the most informed conclusion that we can.

These might include, but are not limited to, further expansion of the current Katama Bay program, exploring the potential for the utilization of other inland waterways that already have more coastal development than Cape Poge (one of which the shellfish department has already proven is a viable/productive area for shellfish cultivation), and assessing the logistics of moving aquaculture operations into slightly deeper near-coastal waters — a model that has seemingly been confirmed as operable by the Cottage City Oyster farm in Oak Bluffs.

If all other options are contemplated and considered and the conclusion of the shellfish committee and the selectmen is that the best plan for the expansion of aquaculture in Edgartown is to bring it to Chappaquiddick, then at least we can take solace in the fact that the decision was enlightened. I, however, am confident and hopeful that we will arrive at a different outcome. Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

 

W. Brice Contessa

Edgartown

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2 COMMENTS

  1. There is no one more interested in the health of Cape Poge Pond than a fisherman who depends on it for his living. Noah is one of those fishermen.
    This letter to the editor is dramatic, and at some points not factual. I understand the Shellfish Committee has decided to table the request at this time. Thank you Shellfish Committee for your thoughtful comments.
    I’d like to hear from the OB aquaculturists who I believe have requested to move part of their oyster operation into the Lagoon where it will be protected from the tides and weather. This is much the same problem with the area off Eel Pond. Any one who has looked closely at the rafts and cages in Katama Bay knows that they provide habitat and refuge for fish and shellfish. Many times scallop spat are found growing in and on the equipment. The small scallops are taken and put into the water in Cape Poge.
    The area proposed is a tiny postage stamp in the pond that isn’t used for scalloping and wouldn’t stop anyone from using or enjoying the pond.
    Aquaculture is here to stay and there aren’t many who think the concept is bad. There are, however, some who don’t want to see it from their private beach or from their window. I know the town will keep exploring and trying to find places for growing Shellfish. Noah and other fishermen on the waiting list will have a longer wait to realize their dreams.

  2. The world is not your oyster. Although I appreciate the entrepreneur spirit of shell fishermen seeking more area to gain profits, the use of public water ways should kept clear for navigation. Cape poge bay as big as it is is still relatively tight quarters for the amount of boat traffic it handles during the summer. Since it is fairly deep it is a haven for boating. Unlike Katama Bay which is so shallow that most boaters are in fear of running aground, Poge is the goto location. There is no doubt that the current oyster farming in katama has taken away from the public’s use of the bay creating a hazard for navigation. Everyone should have the right to clear waterways to fish, boat, sail, paddle without having to navigate around a bunch of junk in the way.

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