Wampanoag Tribe cleans oyster farm of storm damage
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has faced several setbacks in its efforts to build a sustainable oyster aquaculture operation on Menemsha Pond. The most recent blow was a spring northeaster that left a monumental mess in its wake.
The Tribe's oyster farming operation consists of a work barge and rafts of floating plastic mesh bags. Juvenile oysters are placed in the bags and are allowed to grow to a marketable size.
The bags, tethered together and individually suspended in the water with foam floatation on the sides, rest in an area on the westernmost side of Menemsha Pond relatively free from strong currents, but not an east wind.
Last week tribe employees continued cleaning up and reorganizing the mess left when a strong April storm hit the Vineyard. The gale force winds ripped apart the rafts of bags and left the remnants of the oyster farming operation in disarray.
Oyster growing bags lie heaped and upended by strong winds. Photos by Jon Ollwerther
Last week, a visitor found growing bags floating at all angles. Normally resting flat in orderly rows, many bags were partially or entirely submerged.
Cleanup efforts began after the storm and tribal officials expect they will continue through the summer, according to Spencer Booker, chairman of the Wampanoag Aquinnah Shellfish Hatchery Board.
"The storm wreaked havoc with us. It's two months later, and we're still in the process of putting the field back together," Mr. Booker said in a telephone conversation with The Times last Tuesday.
Although the farm appears to be in disarray, it looks worse than it is, said Mr. Booker. Because the oysters remained in the water, Mr. Booker expects that there will be no long-term effect on the Tribe's farming operation.
The Tribe has sold mature oysters under the brand name "Tomahawk Oysters" since spring 2004. But in a change this season, the Tribe is no longer growing oysters from seed raised in the tribal shellfish hatchery located at the head of Menemsha Pond off State Road.
After hatchery director Rob Garrison left last September, tribal officials said they had no immediate plans to raise juvenile shellfish in the facility. Instead, the tribe decided to concentrate on growing the existing stock.
One of the rafts of growing bags the Wampanoag Tribe uses to raise oysters to maturity in Menemsha Pond.
In the past, bags and Styrofoam floats washing up along the Menemsha Pond spawned complaints from area residents that the tribe was not doing enough to police the operation. Following a meeting with Aquinnah residents in the summer of 2005, the tribe promised to redouble its cleanup
Last week, Sarah Thulin, Aquinnah conservation commission chairman and a shoreline property owner, said the tribe has been very responsive to concerns and complaints.
Mr. Booker, who is also an Aquinnah selectman, said the storm cleanup is in addition to a regular weekly cleanup designed to pick up trash of any sort along the shoreline.
"Sometimes things do break loose and wash up on the beach. This year the hatchery is taking a proactive approach. One day a week - we've designated more or less Friday afternoons - as a day to walk along that beach and pick up trash, whether it's ours or not," Mr. Booker said.