New foes, never in view, for Cape fisherman 5/6/14& Appeals Court Rules for Mashpee Oysterman 5/20/14
For centuries, Massachusetts shellfish have enjoyed a reputation as some of the best in the world, but the saga of Richard Cook is a familiar scenario for anyone trying to farm oysters and clams in this state. Having successfully completed lengthy approval processes through numerous state and federal agencies, local Indian tribe, and the Town of Mashpee—not to mention garnering widespread popular support among the year-round community—a few powerful upland landowners have prevented him from farming oysters for years. Previously he has been tied up in court; however, the group has recently resorted to a more underhanded approach. Siting difficulties resulting from abutter opposition remains the single biggest inhibitor to the growth of oyster and clam farming in the Commonwealth.
We farm in a state whose coastline is dominated by some of the world’s most expensive real estate; that reality is not lost on us. Because of this our farms are very small—almost exclusively mom-and-pop operations like Richard Cook’s—as opposed to larger, industrial operations. Aesthetically, they are diminutive. Our gear rarely exceeds eighteen inches in height and is quickly camouflaged by the marine fouling organisms that cover it. We use small skiffs to access the beds.
The benefits of farming oysters and clams are straightforward. They remove nitrogenous waste and consume the algae that grow from it—the very stuff that runs off the well-fertilized lawns of upland neighbors. They also filter detritus from the water column, improving water clarity and promoting the growth of aquatic plants that add much-needed oxygen to the ecosystem. The structure of the nursery gear partially substitutes as crucial habitat for fish and other organisms—often habitat that was lost with the destruction of wild oyster reefs. They are also a nutritious and locally produced source of protein and high quality jobs—in many cases for people who formerly worked in our declining wild fisheries. Legions of people are employed in this state because of shellfish farms and money from these jobs largely goes back into local economies.
For these reasons, the Patrick administration and our state legislature have been staunch supporters of our work. Now that the landowners in the Richard Cook affair have engaged the legislature, we are grateful for the extension of that support in this particular matter.
It is confounding, in a time where our cultural zeitgeist so highly values sustainable food and transparent supply chains, that there are people who reflexively oppose the thought of having to look at a farm on a daily basis. There is an opportunity for working class people to earn a solid living while growing food, improving our environment, and breathing fresh air. That seems like something everyone should get behind.