Noah Mayrand came before Tisbury selectmen at a hearing Thursday night to seek approval of a revised permit application for an oyster grant in Lake Tashmoo. Mayrand told the board he was an experienced fisherman who had worked on Edgartown and Chilmark oyster farms and in particular worked extensively with the Scheffer family, who are heavily invested in aquaculture. Mayrand said oysters have a long history of use as a filtering tool to rid water of pollution.
“Creating a one-acre aquaculture site on Lake Tashmoo would be my contribution in keeping this body of water clean for years to come,” he said.
Mayrand estimated the volume of water his oysters could filter would be measured in billions of gallons.
“The first year I plan on bringing 100,000 new oyster seeds into the pond…,” he said. “Once the seeds are in the water, they will remain there for no less than 2½ years, totalling 365 billion gallons of filtered water from my farm from that year’s investment alone. This number would compound year after year as I apply more generations and more seed to the one-acre plot.”
Compared to the area of Lake Tashmoo itself, Mayrand characterized his project as modestly sized.
“I’ve outlined my one-acre boundry markers in an anchorage that is greater than 10 acres total. Tashmoo itself is over 290 acres,” he said. He added the farm would be situated and marked to allow for safe navigation and anchorage. He described the proposed farm location as roughly 12-feet deep, historically devoid of eelgrass, and unproductive for fishing.
“I hope the town will see the benefits of this project as I do,” he said. “There are many things our community will benefit [from]…with having an oyster farm with minimum risk and cost to the town itself: clean water, local commerce, year round jobs, and the creation of a new, local food product.”
Tisbury Shellfish Constable Danielle Ewart expressed concern Mayrand’s application describes the use of floating gear, counter to local regulation. She also noted the proposed location sees heavy boat traffic in the summer.
Selectmen chair Melinda Loberg asked Mayrand if abutters have been contacted about the proposed project. Mayrand said he concluded there are “no abutters within 600 feet” after consulting with the town assessor.
Tisbury Harbormaster John Crocker concurred with Ewart’s traffic assessment.
“The area is used heavily, especially on weekends during the summer as an anchorage for vessels,” he said. “You know I can foresee that there will be conflicts with the gear and with people running through the gear and possibly anchoring in the gear.”
Crocker went on to say Mayrand would need to monitor the site closely in the season and be diplomatic in interacting with boaters. Crocker felt it would take time for boaters to become accustomed to such a farm and to steer clear of it. He recommended the board consider allowing Mayrand a couple of moorings for the rafts that will service the farm and that Mayrand be charged a mooring fee for vessels less than 20 feet with the caveat that if the farm ends, so too would the moorings.
Fisherman Glenn Pachico, proprietor of John’s Fish Market, told the board when he previously applied for an aquaculture permit, “the town told me there was no water available.”
He pointed out Tisbury wasn’t as accepting of aquaculture as it seems to be now. Pachico took issue with the location Mayrand chose.
“An oyster grant is there to help the pond, yes, but it should be in a place where it doesn’t take away from the pond also,” he said. He said eelgrass, quahogs, and anchorage were prohibitive factors there and argued oyster grants shouldn’t be located in the lake Tashmoo at all but if they are, they should be situated in other portions of the lake.
He disagreed with Mayrand’s depth assessment.
“There isn’t 12 feet in that pond period. It’s seven to eight feet. Getting out of the channel you’re lucky if you have five,” he said.
Pachico pointed to Edgartown where he said the town sows oyster seed and lets fishermen wild harvest the oysters that grow.
“Since we have another mandatory closure at Burt’s Boatyard, and there’s talk of another marina which is going to close off 30 acres of our very productive Lagoon Pond, the West Arm,” he said, “it makes more sense, maybe, to buy seed, plant it in Lagoon [Pond], plant some in Tashmoo … giving us fishermen, not just one fisherman, giving all us fishermen a chance to harvest the oysters.”
In answer to a question as to why Mayrand’s project wasn’t referred to Tisbury’s natural resources committee, committee member Jeff Canha said the opportunity has been there.
“Both the shellfish constable and the harbormaster report to that committee,” he said. “If they had concerns, he said, they would have brought them forward to the committee.”
Natural Resources Committee chair Sally Rizzo agreed with Ewart about the floating gear Mayrand proposed utilizing.
“The equipment that this gentleman is planning on using does not meet the regulations,” she said.
Lobsterville Bar and Grille co-owner Teddy Karalekas, a champion shucker, pressed the selectmen to approve Mayrand’s permit.
Karalekas said he’s lived on Tashmoo most of his life, he knows the waters well, and annually buys 10,000 oysters from the Scheffers who Mayrand works for, and shucks about 9,000 of those. He questioned why “rich people in Edgartown” should be enjoying lots of local oysters and not Tisbury.
“Let’s give this guy a chance,” he said.
Aquaculturist Jeremy Scheffer said oyster farming has been “a benefit” to both Chilmark and Edgartown. “This is a new opportunity for Vineyard Haven…,” he said.
Oyster farms draw “tons of fish” and “tons of shrimp” and also protect crabs and lobsters, he said.
“You see this increase in life in the area quickly after you start putting your cages down there.”
He said the Division of Marine Fisheries will determine if regulated sealife is in the proposed area. “They’re not going to allow him to put this oyster farm there unless there’s absolutely no eelgrass.,” he said. “And they’re going to check for quahogs so that will be taken care of as well.”
Scheffer said Edgartown did indeed seed oysters but he said the seeding process involves floating gear, a “huge effort” and a lot of money requiring work from a robust shellfish staff.
“And I don’t want to say Vineyard Haven won’t make that commitment,” he said. “but it is a huge effort and a huge amount of money for maybe not as much benefit for…the fishermen.”
Alternatively, he said Mayrand would use “his time, his money, his effort to clean up your water which I think is a huge benefit.”
Scheffer said he stood in support of Mayrand’s application. “I endorse Noah wholeheartedly,” he said. “He’s a great person to be starting this project.”
Selectman Jeff Kristal asked Ewart if there was another site in Tashmoo that might be appropriate. “Tashmoo’s a pretty tough spot because there are so many user groups,” she said. She said outside Tashmoo “might be best.”
Loberg asked Ewart if she reviewed other location options with Mayrand. “Not since the [shellfish] committee was dissolved,” she said.
Mayrand noted the project would occupy one acre of a 10-acre area that is, he said, “not a potential fishing area” and was primarily used by off-Island summer boaters who dig their anchors into the lake bed and “essentially destroy whatever shellfish their anchors are around and then they move on. They don’t spend a dime on the Vineyard and then they leave.”
Selectman Jeff Kristal suggested a second look at regulations in regards to abutters, gear and location selection might be in order. He asked Mayrand if outside Tashmoo was feasible.
“I want to give you a permit. I really do,” Kristal said. “I want to see this. I’ve been championing an aquaculture program since I got into office and I think this is important. So I want to make you fit where it’s safe, where everybody wants you to fit.”
Before Mayrand could respond, Kristal then asked Scheffer about locating the project outside Tashmoo.
“Would something like that work?”
Scheffer described such outer or oceanic grant work as industrial scale and dangerous and pointed to one operation near the Connecticut River that uses a 100-foot vessel and cages much larger and heavier than what’s used on the Vineyard.
“So it’s like the Deadliest Catch on steroids,” he said.
Loberg didn’t like the idea of locations beyond saltwater ponds. The reasoning behind aquaculture regulations was to develop a ”method to address some of the pollution problems that we’re having in our ponds,” she said. She also said if the town is to give up a “portion of public space to a private enterprise, there has to be a benefit to the town…”
She said she was “disappointed” the Martino Brothers were forced to have their aquaculture operation outside Lagoon Pond “because it was not going to do Lagoon [Pond] water quality any good there.”
The selectmen ultimately took what they heard at the hearing under advisement and voted to continue the hearing until April 7 at 5:30 pm.