When the former Massachusetts State Lobster Hatchery in Oak Bluffs was renamed the John T. Hughes Hatchery and Research Center this spring, it also got a change in purpose. The benefits of that shift are already being released in local coastal ponds.
Through the efforts of a crew from the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, the hatchery has worked as a nursery for the raising of millions of tiny baby quahaugs. Rick Karney, director of the group, said that he and his staff have been turning over the quahaugs to local shellfish constables.
The quahaugs were spawned at the Tisbury hatchery farther down Lagoon Pond. From there, the microscopic animals were transported to the Hughes hatchery in April, where Mr. Karney said they raised millions of them. The Hughes hatchery is augmenting quahaugs also being raised at the group’s Chappaquiddick nursery. Among all three facilities, Mr. Karney said they were able to raise close to six million quahaugs.
Fronting the Lagoon Pond on Shirley avenue, what is now the Hughes facility was built in 1948 to hatch and raise lobsters. In its heyday, up until 1984, as many as 10,000 visitors a summer would tour the building. In more recent years, the facility has been far quieter, used as a research center with saltwater pumps sitting idle.
This week, the quahaugs at the nursery were slightly larger than grains of sand. Yet, under the microscope, these little animals already had the look of quahaugs. On Tuesday, Elizabeth Mellon, a senior hatchery assistant, together with Molly Bangs, her assistant, were separating the animals by putting them through a fine mesh screen. The quahaugs were being sorted to be shipped to the Chappaquiddick facility, where they will continue growing.
Mr. Karney said they encountered and overcame a few glitches in getting the hatchery up and running after years of being idle. The state Division of Marine Fisheries, which owns the facility and rents it to the shellfish group, put in over $200,000 in improvements to the saltwater pumping system in the last year. The pumps are critical, continuously providing fresh seawater from Lagoon Pond for the large tanks that store the little animals. The state is also funding the building of a new solar greenhouse next door for the raising of algae that will be used to feed future bivalve residents at the hatchery. “It is part of their commitment to make the hatchery more of an aquaculture facility,” Mr. Karney said.
Close to $12,000 in additional money for personnel and materials has come from both the Lagoon Pond Association, a local nonprofit organization committed to keeping the pond healthy and vibrant, and the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard fund, which underwrites a number of different projects and programs on the Vineyard.
The pumps at the Hughes hatchery will be quiet for only a little while. Mr. Karney said that he and his staff on Thursday began setting bay scallops. In the days ahead they will shift all their attention to raising millions of bay scallops at the hatchery. “We will be testing,” he said, “to see how well we can raise bay scallops there.”