Shellfish farming is likely to expand in Taunton Bay

HANCOCK — There was a time when the announcement that a shellfish farmer was going to hold a scoping session to talk about expanding operations in Taunton Bay would likely have produced howls of outrage and a large, hostile turnout at the event itself. That time seems to have passed.

Last Thursday, the Taunton Bay Oyster Co. held a scoping session to introduce its plan to apply for 13.85-acre aquaculture lease for the bottom culture of oysters in Taunton Bay northwest of the Route 1 bridge off Cedar Point in Hancock.

At its southeastern end, the proposed lease site — more or less “pork chop” shaped — would adjoin the company’s existing 5-acre lease.

The proposal hardly elicited a yawn from the tiny crowd that attended the meeting.

“It was pretty quiet down there,” Taunton Bay Oyster Co. President Michael Briggs said last Saturday. “Seven people showed up. There were no big concerns.”

“Sounds like it was pretty calm,” Jon Lewis, director of the Department of Marine Resources Division of Aquaculture, said in an email.

Though organized under the aegis of DMR, and required by the department’s aquaculture regulations, scoping sessions are not formal adjudicatory proceedings run by the department. A DMR representative does attend the session.

According to a handout Briggs prepared for the meeting, his company wants the new lease site to improve its ability to harvest oysters for market throughout the winter. The site “freezes over in only the coldest winters” and, combined with oysters from the company’s lease sites in upper Taunton Bay “would allow us to provide product to our customers on a year-round basis.

While planning to use divers to harvest the site, Briggs said he would like to have the right to use “hand tools or a small dredge as a backup” if his divers were unavailable or if water conditions made diving on the site too dangerous.

DMR Resource Management Coordinator Angel Wilson attended the Thursday meeting and reported that the audience encompassed mostly owners of shorefront property near the proposed lease site.

“Several of the attendees were from Friends of Taunton Bay,” an active local conservation group, Wilson reported. “All in attendance seemed to be in support of Mike’s proposal; they just had a lot of questions. Most of the questions seemed to be curiosity of the process and how the biology of oysters works.”

According to Wilson, questions focused on how oysters are harvested and the impact of such factors a weather and tide have on the bivalves’ growth.

“Mike’s big ‘selling point’ seemed to be,” Wilson said, is “that if he was granted this lease as bottom culture only, that protected that site from having floating gear” that some other potential lessee might want to use.

“The attendees seemed to really like that idea,” Wilson said.

Briggs said he planned to file a formal lease application with DMR in the immediate future. After the department accepts the application as complete, department scientists will visit the area for a formal site evaluation and, once that is complete, DMR will schedule a formal hearing on the lease application.

Depending on what other applications may be filed with the department, the Taunton Bay Oyster Co. application is likely to be one of the first to proceed under DMR’s new aquaculture leasing regulations that became effective April 1.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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