Aquinnah closes Indian oyster project
For several years shoreline property owners have complained that the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has poorly managed its oyster aquaculture project and allowed plastic mesh bags and other material to litter Menemsha Pond.
Last week, following a public hearing, Aquinnah selectmen voted not to renew the Tribe's ground lease and gave the Tribe 60 days to clean its sprawling oyster farm, or return with a viable plan to continue the project.
The project has been costly. The Tribe spent considerable money trying to get the project off the ground and sustain it. The town has had to give tax abatements to property owners deprived of their right to use the shoreline.
In 2002 the Tribe, operating under the name of the Wampanoag Aquinnah Shellfish Hatchery, Inc., began an ambitious aquaculture project that was intended to provide oysters for markets around the country. The Tribe built a shellfish hatchery and anchored rafts of floating black plastic mesh grow bags in Menemsha Pond.
A walk along the otherwise pristine shoreline of Menemsha Pond last week revealed hundreds of abandoned oyster bags, littering the beach and water. Some are filled with dead oysters, at various stages of development all the way up to mature shellfish. Some of the bags contain live mature oysters. It is unclear whether those oysters are still marketable. Bags and lines were tangled in shoreline vegetation, scattered along the beach, and clumped in shallow waters. The wind and tides have pushed them into unsightly piles.
On its web site and in various publications, the Wampanoag Tribe promotes goals of careful development and protection of ancestral lands, preserving and enhancing wildlife and natural resources, and sustaining their environment.
In a phone conversation with The Martha's Vineyard Times yesterday, Tribal administrator Tobias Vanderhoop was asked whether the remnants of the project strewn along the western side of the pond are a direct contradiction to those goals. "We do our absolute best to fulfill the expectations and responsibility we have to our homeland," he said. "It is certainly not our intention to disrespect our lands in any way. Yes, we can do better, and we have to do better, and it is our intention to work harder."
The issue goes beyond stewardship of the land and water. The town of Aquinnah has issued $16,000 in tax abatements in each of the last two years to property owners along the Menemsha Pond shoreline, because they have been unable to enjoy their rights to the beach and water.
"We have lost $32,000 in tax revenue," Aquinnah selectman Camille Rose told The Martha's Vineyard Times. "That is a lot of money for us. It can make the difference in a Proposition 2.5 override."