PROVINCETOWN — A new 50-acre area in Cape Cod Bay off Provincetown and Truro could provide income for shellfish growers. But a popular, floating method for oyster farming won’t be allowed by state fisheries officials who say the equipment could ensnare whales and leatherback turtles.
The method uses sets of floats strapped together at the surface and secured on each end with ropes that drop to the seafloor, Provincetown and Truro Shellfish Constable Tony Jackett said Friday.
The 50 acres is in water about 20 feet deep within the bay’s federally designated North Atlantic right whale critical habitat. It’s also in the area where, since 2005, a dozen leatherback turtles have become entangled in fixed fishing gear, according to state records. In the past four years, one right whale entanglement originated in the area.
Fisheries officials are concerned about the vertical ropes and entanglements.
“At this point, we’re not going to allow these floating aquaculture gear,” said aquatic biologist Erin Burke of the state Division of Marine Fisheries on Friday.
Generally, the state intends to give the go-ahead to gear that is rigged without vertical lines or with highly modified lines, to prevent injury to endangered species.
Provincetown officials want to create an area along the lines of a community garden with about 25 plots, 1 acre each, for people who want to try aquaculture, Brown said.
On the applications so far in Provincetown, people have suggested they would grow oysters, butter clams, mussels, quahogs, and bay and sea scallops. In Truro, applications have been submitted by shellfishermen looking for more than 1 acre apiece.
“You’re not going to make a living of it,” said Alex Brown, chairman of the Provincetown Shellfish Advisory Committee, on Friday. “You’re going to supplement your income.”
On Wednesday, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies will host a free, daylong workshop for both novice and experienced shellfishermen interested in the new aquaculture development area.
The focus will be on the risks of entanglement, regulatory agencies and new developments, such as equipment that eliminates the risk of entanglement.
“Some people are concerned that the ropes used to anchor (the floating oyster equipment) could pose a threat,” said Owen Nichols, the center’s marine fisheries research director. Nichols has worked with the Provincetown Shellfish Advisory Committee in the last two years to get the idea of the aquaculture development area off the ground, Brown said.
“This is a good way to have a conversation with the growers who are thinking about using them,” Nichols said.
Several types of “whale-safe” ropes and equipment are currently being investigated and could be appropriate for the area, state Division of Marine Fisheries Director Paul Diodati said in a Feb. 22 letter to Jackett, the shellfish constable.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit for the aquaculture development area in January.
Although it allows the growth and harvest of shellfish and permits particular equipment, it does not allow any activities that would harm or harass threatened or endangered animals.
Other federal, state and town permissions are needed as well, Brown said. Both Provincetown and Truro officials are in the process of doing that. Then, each individual who gets an aquaculture license from one of the towns will also have to purchase a permit from the state, called a propagation permit, to purchase seed, Jackett said.
It’s unclear when the first shellfish seeds will be planted at the site.
Truro Shellfish Advisory Committee Chairman Ansel Chaplin was not available for comment Friday.