Enhancing Farmer Access to Sustainable Shellfish Aquaculture Areas: An Ecosystem Approach

Final Report for CNE10-078

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2010: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Owen Nichols
Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies
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Project Information

Summary:

Site selection for a subtidal aquaculture development area (ADA) straddling the boundary between the towns of Provincetown and Truro, Massachusetts was completed. Mapping was conducted using an iterative Geographic Information System (GIS)-based approach. Local knowledge of other human uses (lobster fishing, etc.), management boundaries, ideal grow-out conditions, and existing shellfish abundance were incorporated using an interactive process by employing the GIS software during group and individual meetings with participants and stakeholders. Information on eelgrass distribution and bathymetry was used to delineate a 50-acre ADA site, consisting of two 25-acre sites (the maximum allowed for a municipality) abutting one another across the town line and following the 20’ depth contour. Acoustic backscatter data from an interferometric sonar system was used to classify seafloor habitat type, indicating no eelgrass and a smooth, sandy bottom. One and half days of dive survey work were completed. At each of 25 stations, an underwater transect was surveyed and photographs taken to qualitatively assess bottom habitat type and a 1 meter quadrat was sampled to quantify existing shellfish abundance. The results of the dive surveys corroborated the sonar data, indicating no eelgrass present and a smooth bottom. The only shellfish species encountered was the surf clam; abundance at all stations was at or below 1 organism per square meter. Project participants conducted outreach and provided technical support to town officials and committees during the local, state, and federal permit application and regulatory review processes for official designation of the ADA. State and federal permitting and regulatory review processes are nearing completion and draft regulations for town management of the ADA have been completed. Outreach efforts identified prospective shellfish growers wishing to obtain a site within the ADA, and a workshop on sustainable subtidal aquaculture techniques is planned.

Project Objectives:

Initial outreach and mapping efforts were conducted over the first several months of the project (June-November 2010) and involved an iterative process during which maps were reviewed by participants and stakeholders during individual and group meetings, culminating in a completed preliminary map of a 50-acre potential ADA.

Project participants presented the results of the mapping efforts to the selectmen of each town in early 2011. The selectmen of both towns voted unanimously to designate the 25-acre abutting sites in each town’s waters as an ADA, initiating the state and federal permitting and regulatory review processes.

Project participants provided technical support to the shellfish committees of each town as they worked to design regulations for management of ADAs. At the time of this report, draft regulations have been completed and public hearings to ratify them are scheduled for March 2012.

Completion of the permit application and regulatory review process is anticipated by summer 2012. Progress on this final task has been slower than anticipated due to a variety of factors beyond the control of project participants, including undermanned town committees and the time required for agency response to applications.

Project participants will continue to provide support to the towns and prospective farmers through ongoing technical assistance and outreach. A workshop on sustainable subtidal aquaculture techniques has been scheduled for May 2012.

Introduction:

Among the greatest barriers to the development of sustainable marine shellfish aquaculture are the regulatory, siting and public policy issues that surround the use of coastal waters. Individual farmers in the Northeast US face regulatory review and permitting processes at federal, state and town levels, issues surrounding use of and access to intertidal (between high and low tide, e.g. tidal flats) and subtidal (beyond/below low tide line) lands, and the need to select suitable sites within ecologically diverse coastal habitats. These challenges are often an impediment to the participation of farmers in shellfish aquaculture efforts in the waters of their own communities, in particular to those new to the industry or wishing to experiment with new and novel techniques. The subtidal waters off of the towns of Provincetown and Truro, on outer Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Figure 1) have proven ideal for farming several species of shellfish, including oysters and surf clams, and have considerable potential for future development of shellfish farming ventures, including grow-out of additional species such as quahogs and softshell clams. The single largest obstacle for an individual to begin farming in this area is the review and permitting process, which is a necessary but burdensome requirement for those not familiar with the process. There are several tiers in the state licensing procedure for an individual site, which includes permit application and consultation at the town level, site inspection and approval by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MADMF), federal agency consultations and approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is then followed by final town approval and a license issued by the state. To those wishing to engage in shellfish farming for the first time, this process may be a deterrent, especially when coupled with the need to gather the large amount of information required to select sites based on water quality, habitat type, and other existing uses. During meetings with local farmers and the Shellfish Advisory Committees and Boards of Selectmen of both Provincetown and Truro, it was agreed that addressing the above issues is the single course of action most likely to promote expansion and development of sustainable shellfish farming in local waters.

This project provided technical support to the towns of Truro and Provincetown in order to identify subtidal areas suitable for future aquaculture development. Data was gathered on habitat type and existing uses which was used to map areas in the waters of each town for designation as aquaculture development areas, or ADAs, large enough to contain multiple grow-out sites for use by individual farmers. Areas of potential ADAs can then be submitted by each town into the state and federal permitting and regulatory review processes. Block permits for ADAs can be sought by each town, and upon completion of the process, the towns will be able to license use of sites within the ADA to individuals, thereby considerably streamlining the process for an individual farmer to identify and access subtidal areas in town waters for the purposes of aquaculture. A similar approach has been employed by the neighboring town of Eastham, in which a 27 acre ADA was designated in 1997 and currently supports 14 intertidal aquaculture operations which are successfully growing marketable quantities of shellfish on a regular, predictable basis and generating a sustainable income. The proposed selection of areas for subtidal ADAs has the potential to extend the successes experienced in Eastham’s intertidal waters into the subtidal zone, which has been demonstrated as a viable grow-out area for several species of shellfish in Provincetown waters. This will encourage development of sustainable aquaculture practices in areas below the low tide line, eliminating the need to access farm sites via foot or vehicle, which can cause conflicts with upland land owners and impede development of aquaculture efforts. A successful effort to identify and designate subtidal ADAs will benefit farmers by enabling them to begin sustainable aquaculture efforts in the waters of their own community without the cost and effort of navigating multiple layers of the regulatory and permitting process or gathering extensive data for site selection.

Cooperators

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Research

Materials and methods:

The project was administered by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) in collaboration with a commercial shellfish farmer (John Baldwin, Seafood Divers, Inc.), the shellfish advisory committees of Truro and Provincetown, and the Shellfish Constable/Warden of each town. Preliminary mapping of a potential subtidal ADA was conducted using ArcGIS Geographic Information System (GIS) software (Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc., Redlands, California). Following extensive outreach, local knowledge was incorporated using an interactive process by employing the GIS software during group and individual meetings with participants and stakeholders. Maps of local waters were displayed on a computer screen or projected during larger group meetings, and areas of potentially conflicting human uses (commercial and recreational fishing, boating, etc.), local management boundaries, ideal grow-out conditions, and existing shellfish abundance were plotted based on local knowledge. The site selection process followed criteria defined by regional best management practices (BMPs) that include directives to follow state classification of waters for shellfish propagation based on water quality, minimize potential conflict with other human uses (e.g. boat traffic, fishing), and ensure that sites are free of submerged underwater vegetation. State management efforts protecting submerged aquatic vegetation prohibit aquaculture activities in areas of eelgrass abundance, and dictate that existing wild shellfish populations in the area must not be affected by culture operations. The above data and criteria were combined with publicly available information on eelgrass distribution and bathymetry to identify potential ADA sites for subsequent seafloor mapping and dive surveys. Sites deemed inappropriate for subtidal aquaculture were eliminated from further consideration. A 50-acre site straddling town boundaries was chosen due to the projected ease of joint management of two contiguous ADAs (Figure 1).

Acoustic backscatter data from an interferometric sonar system were used to classify seafloor habitat type. Sonar surveys were conducted from mid-July to mid-August 2010 as part of a nearshore seafloor mapping project in northeastern Cape Cod Bay, during which the utility of this technology to detect eelgrass beds and fine-scale features such as sand ripples was successfully demonstrated. Underwater surveys were conducted at the potential ADA site on 28 and 29 November 2010, working from a 35 ft commercial fishing and dive support vessel (F/V Chase). Divers were experienced in underwater harvest and culture of shellfish and had prior environmental survey experience. At each station, an underwater transect was surveyed and photographs were taken using a handheld digital underwater camera to qualitatively assess bottom habitat type and check for eelgrass presence. Species composition and abundance of shellfish and other benthic organisms were recorded within 1 meter quadrats at each station.

The smooth, sandy bottom observed was deemed ideal for subtidal seafloor culture methods for surf clams and other species according to the local knowledge gathered during the outreach component of this project and the experience of project participants. Evidence of a relatively dynamic environment in the eastern section of the site was indicated by ripples and loosely packed sand observed during underwater surveys. Information of this type is useful for planning shellfish aquaculture operations, as stock may need to be protected from sediment re-suspension. It is noteworthy that sea stars and moon snails, both of which are well-known predators of farmed shellfish, were observed during diver transects and quadrat sampling. Future aquaculture efforts in this area may need to consider predator exclusion methods to prevent losses to these predators.
Outreach to current and potential shellfish farmers was conducted by PCCS and all collaborators. The town shellfish advisory committees included commercial farmers and provided a de facto steering group during this project. Project participants presented the results of the mapping efforts to the selectmen of each town in early 2011. The selectmen of both towns voted unanimously to designate the 25-acre abutting sites in each town’s waters as an ADA, initiating the state and federal permitting and regulatory review processes, during which project participants provided technical support. In summer 2011, the ADAs were marked with buoys and a biological survey was conducted by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MADMF) with field support provided by project participants. MADMF approved the 50 acres for aquaculture in fall 2011. Project participants provided technical support to the shellfish committees of each town as they worked to design regulations for management of ADAs. Regulations include application criteria for prospective farmers and measures to prevent entanglements of marine animals in gear that could be employed for off-bottom shellfish culture methods. At the time of this report, draft regulations have been completed and public hearings to ratify them are scheduled for March 2012. Completion of the permit application and regulatory review process is anticipated by summer 2012.

Research results and discussion:

Outreach and mapping efforts resulted in designation of a 50-acre potential ADA in the waters of Provincetown and Truro. Technical support provided to the towns has led to the development of ADA management plans and aided in the permitting and regulatory review process. This project built on initial outreach efforts by creating community-wide interest, raising awareness of and support for the project among the general public, town and state officials, and current and prospective shellfish farmers. The mapping, technical support, and outreach efforts have laid the foundation for the development of sustainable subtidal shellfish aquaculture in the waters of Provincetown and Truro.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Outreach to current and prospective shellfish farmers and other users of coastal habitat continued throughout the project, as their input was critical to determining the spatial extent of proposed ADAs. This simultaneously raised community awareness about the project while ensuring continued community involvement in the process. The involvement of the principal farmer collaborator, town shellfish advisory committees, and constable/warden was integral to this process, as they have longstanding working relationships with the community. These efforts identified numerous prospective shellfish growers wishing to obtain a site within the ADA, and a workshop on sustainable subtidal aquaculture techniques will be held in May 2012, co-sponsored by PCCS and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension/Woods Hole Sea Grant, and supported by the Cape Cod Economic Development Council. Project results were disseminated via media interviews and the PCCS web site and e-newsletter, as well as presentations at aquaculture trade society meetings and professional conferences. A presentation to the Massachusetts Shellfish Officers Association is scheduled for March 2012. A list of publications and presentations related to the project is presented below:

Journal Article:

Nichols, O.C., H. Lind, J. Baldwin, A.R. Jackett, M. Borrelli, and P.A. Small, Jr. 2011. Site selection for sustainable aquaculture development areas: a practical mapping approach. Journal of Ocean Technology 6(3): 60-70.

Presentations:

Nichols, O.C., H. Lind, J. Baldwin, A. R. Jackett, M. Borrelli, and P. A. Small, Jr. 2011. A comprehensive habitat mapping approach for siting of subtidal aquaculture development areas. 103rd Annual Meeting of the National Shellfisheries Association, Baltimore, Maryland, March 27-31, 2011. Published abstract: Journal of Shellfish Research 30: 538-539.

Nichols, O. C., H. Lind, J. Baldwin, T. Jackett, M. Borrelli, and P. A. Small, Jr. 2010. Site selection for subtidal aquaculture development areas: a comprehensive habitat mapping approach. Northeast Aquaculture Conference & Expo, Plymouth, Massachusetts, December 1-3, 2010.

PCCS Newsletter:

Anonymous. 2011. Shellfish aquaculture areas: an ecosystem approach. Coastwatch 35(1): 6.

Selected Media Coverage:

Lum, K. R. 2011. Provincetown & Truro seek 50 acres for shellfish farming. Provincetown Banner (Online Edition, Posted January 9, 2011):
http://www.wickedlocal.com/truro/features/x389483853/Provincetown-Truro-seek-50-acres-for-shellfish-farming

Balliett, L. 2012. Town wants input on deepwater aquaculture grant proposal. Provincetown Banner 17(45): 11. March 1, 2012.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Outreach and mapping efforts resulted in town designation and state certification of a 50-acre potential ADA.

State and federal permitting and regulatory review processes for the ADA are nearing completion.

Draft regulations for town management of the ADA have been completed.
Outreach efforts have identified numerous prospective shellfish growers wishing to obtain a site within the ADA.

A workshop on sustainable subtidal aquaculture techniques has been planned.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The successful effort to identify and designate subtidal ADAs will benefit farmers by enabling them to begin sustainable aquaculture efforts in the waters of their community without the cost and effort of the site selection, regulatory and permitting processes. This will open up greater opportunity than presently exists for farmers to become involved in shellfish aquaculture. By incorporating the highest quality data available and the BMP criteria in the site selection process, aquaculture efforts within ADAs will have minimal potential for negative impacts on the surrounding environment or conflicts with existing uses, while ensuring maximum potential for success of environmentally sustainable shellfish farming. The communities of Truro and Provincetown rely extensively on seasonal tourism for income, and the enhanced potential for shellfish farming in ADAs would increase the amount of year-round income for farmers and the associated shoreside industry. A further community benefit will be experienced from the transition of individuals that have traditionally relied on commercial fishing for income into the field of shellfish aquaculture. Given the declining status of local commercial marine capture fisheries, transition into shellfish aquaculture will be both economically and environmentally more sustainable. Outreach to prospective farmers has garnered interest from many members of the fishing community, who have a high probability of success due to previous experience with skills vital to subtidal aquaculture (e.g. seamanship, boat operation, knowledge of local waters and the marine environment).

In addition to the community impacts listed above, this project will have broader implications by encouraging novel approaches to shellfish culture in subtidal habitat. In contrast to the more commonly occurring intertidal aquaculture, subtidal culture poses a unique set of challenges associated with working in deeper water. Addressing these challenges will require innovations that will have applicability beyond an individual farmer’s ADA site, transferable to larger-scale efforts in the local community and throughout regions where subtidal shellfish aquaculture is developing.

Future Recommendations

Completion of the permit application and regulatory review process will require continued technical support to the towns. A planned workshop on sustainable subtidal aquaculture techniques will encourage development of innovative approaches to address the unique set of challenges associated with working in deeper water.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.