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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: shellfish


  • Education and Training: decision support system, technical assistance
  • Sustainable Communities: community development

    Proposal abstract:

    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 waters1,2.
    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 habitats3,4. 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 of the towns of Provincetown and Truro, on outer
    Cape Cod, Massachusetts have proven ideal for farming several species
    of shellfish, including oysters and sea clams5, 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, 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 state6. 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 has been 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.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will provide technical support to the towns of Truro and Provincetown in order to
    identify subtidal areas suitable for future aquaculture development. Data will be gathered on
    water quality, habitat type and existing uses, which will be used to map areas in the waters of
    each town that may be designated as Aquaculture Development Areas, or ADAs, large enough to
    contain multiple grow-out sites for use by individual farmers. Areas of potential ADAs may then
    be submitted by each town into the permitting and regulatory review process.

    Block permits for ADAs can then 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
    Eastham7, 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 Truro and 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 efforts8. 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.

    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.