Reader Feedback: Aquaculture Column Misses the Point

The owners of Coastal Kayak react to a column from our September issue.

Mark Nardone got a number of things wrong in his column, “Shellfish Aquaculture Proposal Stirs Up the Bay” (Sept. 2015). First, we, the owners of Coastal Kayak, were not both newcomers when we started our business. My husband, Mitch, was born in Baltimore, spent part of every summer of his life in these waters, and moved back here soon after graduating from college in the early ’80s. When I met Mark in 1995, I was new here but Mitch already knew these waters like the back of his hand.

Mark wrote that it was unfortunate that “the NIMBY groups have hijacked the headlines.” The true shame is that not one of the people that would be looking at and working around the plots every single day was asked to join the CIB Tiger Team (the group that picked the lease sites) when other members of the team included potential aquaculturists, bait and tackle store owners, commercial clammers, and duck hunters. Not one person on the team had any ties to Little Assawoman Bay.

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Tiger Team minutes, in two separate occasions, mentioned that they had little to no human-use data for Little Assawoman Bay—a deficit that was never remedied prior to choosing the site locations. We have been in the same location on Little Assawoman Bay for 16 years, last year sending out over 13,000 customers into the bay waters. If they didn’t know enough about our bay to know who could give them some human-use data, they never should have been contemplating placing 118 acres of aquaculture leases in it to begin with. 

Also, on the original site map there was a lease site close to Burton’s Island in Rehoboth Bay, but it disappeared in updated maps. I was told by the director of CIB that the commercial clammers got it removed because they feared it would interfere with their business.

If all of the stakeholders had been afforded these same courtesies, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and the aquaculturists would already be in production. We are now working to get aquaculture implemented in a thoughtful, responsible manner for all. 

Mark wrote that the benefit to all outweighs the inconvenience to a few. But in a 2013 report to the management board of the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Scientific and Technical Committee wrote, “To date, no study has shown significant net annual enhancement of denitrification associated with intensive oyster aquaculture. At present, we recommend assigning a value of zero for nitrogen removal via denitrification associated with aquacultured oysters.” 

If the shellfish plots are leased as drawn up, next year we’ll have 13,000 people that will have to navigate around the sea of PVC pipes and that we’ll need to warn about the danger of the cages, stakes, and barnacle encrusted pipes, as well as all the sailors we’ll have to turn away because we’ll no longer be able to rent sailboats. I doubt they’ll see the benefit of an industrial fishing operation sharing the same shoreline as non-motorized watercraft.

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In addition, recreational boaters trying to launch on Little Assawoman Bay will not see the benefit when they will have to share the few, already crowded ramps with commercial aquaculturists. Property owners will likely not see the benefit as they watch their property values along with their rental incomes decrease. And bayfront residents will not see the benefit when an aquaculturist is power-spraying his oyster cages in front of their deck at 6 a.m.

It seems more accurate to write that many will be inconvenienced for the benefit of an experiment.

Finally, Mark tasked us with promoting aquaculture, even though the chosen sites will hurt our business. We have always believed that if we can get people onto the water to experience the beauty and peacefulness of it first hand, they will love it too, and want to protect it. For years we’ve told our customers about the benefits of a wild oyster population and will continue to do so. However, we have no conclusive evidence of aquacultured oysters. In addition, we are simply not convinced that the extremely shallow sites they’ve chosen (kayaks can barely make it through some of the locations at very low tides), which at present see little to no motorized boat traffic, will benefit from being churned up by work boats and the introduction of cages, stakes, and pipes.

So what are we to tell our customers? We can explain that, before our shoreline became an experiment in industrial fishing, we used to be able to rent sailboats and that paddlers used to be able to stay along the shoreline, out of the wind, to observe wildlife up close. And we can try to describe the beautiful, serene view that our customers, along with thousands of others, used to enjoy.


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