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Selectmen Endorse Tribe’s Commercial Shellfish Plan

Posted in: Mashpee News, Front Page Stories
Aug 29, 2008 - 2:02:02 PM
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MASHPEE- The Mashpee Board of Selectmen approved a request from Selectman George F. Green Jr. to endorse an application by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council for funding to start a massive oyster aquaculture project.
Selectmen voted 4 to 0 to endorse the federal Department of Fish and Wildlife grant application, with Mr. Green, who is a member of the tribe, abstaining.
“I’ve been sent here to ask for the support of the board,” he said.
Mr. Green said the project will be a commercial shellfish venture run out of the tribal council’s two shellfish parcels in Popponesset Bay, which are adjacent to Gooseberry Island and in the center of the bay, just north of the spit. Town Meeting voted to support efforts by the tribe to obtain legal deeds to the shellfish grants earlier this year.
It is intended primarily as an economic development program to provide employment for tribe members, he said, with the added benefit of potentially improving water quality in the bay. Any profit would go back into the program, he said.
He said the goal is to begin with harvesting two million oysters a year for two years and eventually increase the output to 10 million. He declined to say how much money the grant requests, citing the fact that it is only an application at this point and the tribe was turned down for the same grant last year.
He said the tribal council has been working with Mashpee Shellfish Constable Richard H. York Jr. and Brian L. Howes, head of the Massachusetts Estuaries Project.
He said the idea is in part modeled off the success of Mr. York’s oyster propagation project in the Mashpee River.
He said the tribe’s project has the potential to reduce the nutrient load in Popponesset Bay to 90 percent of the federally mandated total maximum daily load for Popponesset Bay. In an interview after the meeting, he said the 90 percent figure is an estimate, and, though he declined to say the source of the estimate, he said it is “reliable.”
The town’s goal of harvesting one million oysters a year is projected to remove approximately 10 percent of the nutrient load from the Mashpee River.
Mr. Green thanked several town officials for helping out on a two-day tour of Mashpee with representatives from five different agencies. Mr. Green declined to say which agencies were present, but he said they traveled throughout the bays, the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge, and Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. “A lot of it was about the problems that we have as communities, both the tribe and the people, and the tribe’s plans for working in conjunction with other agencies to address those problems,” he said.
The selectmen voiced strong support for the proposal, particularly the potential water quality benefits for the troubled bay.
“I think we have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Selectman Wayne E. Taylor said.
In response to a question from Town Manager Joyce M. Mason, Mr. Green clarified that it would be a commercial program and very different from Mr. York’s.
The only bit of dissent was from Selectman Don D. Myers, who said he is wary of setting a precedent by blessing a commercial venture.
But Chairman John J. Cahalane said, “I have been a promoter of aquaculture for I don’t know how long, and, if someone else comes forward with a commercial venture, I’ll probably support that, too.”
The Mashpee Waterways Commission is currently considering whether to reauthorize another application for a commercial shellfish plot in Waquoit Bay. At a public hearing last week Harbormaster Perry F. Ellis spoke strongly against the application, which will eventually require the approval of the board of selectmen.