Aquaculture Stimulus

We have seen the future and this is it: American oysters, bay scallops, blue mussels, quahaugs and softshell clams, thriving by the thousands in natural nurseries that are the coastal ponds and embayments of the Vineyard. The nurseries are aided by the able work of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, which grows millions of seed shellfish and provides them to the towns for sowing — both in the wild and in saltwater farms tended by entrepreneurial fishermen.

The ponds are clean and free from pollutants, thanks to the work of town governments and nonprofit conservation groups who have collaborated to curtail additional development in fragile watersheds and help fund sophisticated upgrades to existing septic systems in those watersheds. Regular dredging in the ponds keeps the salt water well oxygenated with strong circulation, like a healthy heart.

Island voters have unanimously backed these efforts, generously contributing property tax dollars that in turn have generated matching grants from the state and federal government.

This vision is already partly a reality, and the rest is within reach, especially if the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group is successful in its quest to land a grant from President Obama’s massive economic stimulus program, which has allotted one hundred and seventy million dollars to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The shellfish group has applied for just over three million dollars from NOAA. If it is successful the money will be used to further the work of the shellfish group and bolster the local economy by creating new jobs and enhancing a sustainable industry.

Begun in 1978, the nonprofit shellfish group provides millions of seed shellfish to the six Island towns each year for stocking ponds. The group also provides seed oysters to private growers that are participating in a fishermen’s retraining program.

It is one of two shellfish hatcheries on the Island, of just three in the commonwealth, and a proven success story.

Chilmark selectman Warren Doty, who is actively involved in revitalizing the local fishery and also in the application for funding, summed up the situation succinctly last week, when he said: “We can apply for wind and solar energy projects and, I’m sure I would offend some people to say, we don’t know exactly what we’re doing with that. But no one knows about bay scallops better than Martha’s Vineyard.”

Is the grant application a long shot? Perhaps, but if there is a shot to take that is more meaningful and worthwhile than this, it’s hard to think what it might be.