Shellfish Group raises concerns over Shipyard project

MEPA public comment period is open.


On Monday, Paul Bagnall, board chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, submitted a letter to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission raising concerns about the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard’s proposed redesign, which includes a 48-slip marina in the west arm of Lagoon Pond in Vineyard Haven.

Within the pond are two Shellfish Group–run facilities: the Rick Karney Solar Hatchery on the Tisbury side of the pond, and the Hughes Hatchery on the Oak Bluffs side, both of which Bagnall says serve all six Island towns, and are already in a fragile state.

“Our production of shellfish seed for the whole Island depends entirely on the good water quality of Lagoon Pond,” the letter reads. “The board fears that adding more stress and pollutants to this already fragile system could take it beyond its tipping point.”

During an “excellent year” such as 2006, the shellfish industry represented up to $2 million, according to Bagnall. He added that the west arm is potentially a critical nursery ground for channeled whelks, which represent a $6.3 million industry.

“The M.V. Shipyard project presents a tangible risk for both these industries,” Bagnall wrote.

The Shellfish Group also says the March shellfish survey conducted by the Shipyard was “not adequate” in assessing shellfish populations in the west arm, because 2018–2019 was the worst scalloping season on record since 1970, the survey was done after the scalloping season, and in March, quahogs are difficult to find since they dig deep to protect themselves from freezing temperatures.

Other concerns raised by the Shellfish Group are pollution from adding 48 boats to the water, increasing the risk of contamination from heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, fuel, and oil; the impact of dredging; whether the increase in water circulation would outweigh the destruction of shellfish habitat; and the risk of a 23.5-acre closing.

At an Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference in October, there was discussion of a proposed change in federal regulations which would automatically consider 10 percent of marinas’ capacity to be live-aboard boats. The Shipyard’s proposed marina will not allow live-aboards or overnight boaters.

In the letter, the Shellfish Group says if the state complies with this regulation, 23.5 acres in the west arm will be closed while the marina is in operation, but adds that it is unclear if or when the state will choose to comply with the regulations.

Tisbury has sold 19 commercial, 402 recreational, and 170 short-term shellfish licenses this year.

On Thursday, Erin Flaherty, an environmental analyst with the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act (MEPA), conducted a site visit at the Shipyard with owners Philip Hale and his son James. MEPA requires review of the project because of its proposed alteration to a coastal beach barrier before issuing a certificate either requiring no further review or requiring additional comments.

Members and staff of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Tisbury board of selectmen, conservation commission, natural resources committee, and the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs shellfish departments all attended the site visit.

During the walk along the shipyard’s property along the Lagoon, James Tilton, a member of the Tisbury natural resources committee, was quahogging. There was a tense moment when the group gathered near the pond and Tilton trudged out of the water. Tilton walked up to James Hale and placed a quahog in his hand, asking, “You know where that came from?”

Hale laughed and thanked Tilton, but explained the project has an extensive shellfish mitigation plan.

In an email to The Times, Hale wrote that he believes the project’s shellfish mitigation plan will be the most comprehensive the town has ever seen: Shellfish will be moved to areas adjacent to the project prior to dredging by raking, bottoms of marina boats must be free of copper paint, up-wellers will be installed on two of the floating docks and run by the town or an oyster farmer, and the marina will donate $2,500 a year for four years toward a shellfish seeding budget.

In the first year, Hale estimates the project will generate $222,000 in town partnerships, taxable benefits, boat excise taxes, and a contribution to affordable housing.

The deadline for public comment concluded Nov. 26. A decision on the certificate will be made on Dec. 6.