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