Monday, May 18, 2015
Key Capecod Shellfish Hatchery to be Saved Through Community Investment
The preservation of the ARC hatchery is good news for the state's shellfish industry. The original story can be found here.
Fishermen’s Alliance To Invest In Regional Shellfish Hatchery
Story and photos by Tim Wood
DENNIS --- When John Pappalardo brought the idea of investing inAquaculture Research Corporation, the region’s largest supplier of seed shellfish, to the board of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, the initial response was “We don’t do shellfish.”
Pappalardo, the non-profit group’s CEO, responded by reminding board members that when fin fishing is slow, or fishermen get sidelined by closures, they traditionally turn to shellfishing to supplement their incomes.
“We all do shellfish,” Pappalardo said.
On Monday, a coalition of public and private agencies,including the Alliance, announced a nearly $5 million plan to preserve as conservation land 30 of the 39 acres owned by Aquaculture Research Corporation, better known on the Cape as ARC, as well as provide resources to allow the aging hatchery – the first of its kind in the country – to modernize and expand.
There isn’t a town on the Cape that doesn’t purchase shellfish seed from ARC’s facility at Chase Garden Creek on Chapin Beach Road in Dennis. The millions of tiny clams, oysters and scallops provide a harvest for both commercial and recreational shellfishermen that, because of changes in ecology and water quality, might not otherwise be there. ARC also provides seed to most of the Cape’s private aquaculture operations, which have an annual economic value of $12.5 million.
Chatham, which hosts the Cape’s most productive wild shellfishery, also buys seed from ARC which is grown and cared for in the town’s upwelling facility on Stage Harbor.
Bolstering the wild fishery with the seed helps sustain Chatham’s substantial commercial shellfish industry and gets it through periodic downturns, said Renee Gagne, Chatham’s shellfish constable. The town annually buys 2.5 million quahog, a quarter million bay scallop and 100,000 oyster seeds from ARC, funded through the town’s shellfish revolving fund.
“Quahog fishing is the backbone of our wild fishery,” Gagne said Monday. “When other fisheries fail, [commercial shellfishermen] rely on quahogs.”
Preserving ARC will boost the Cape’s economy and protecting the land around it preserves the region’s environment, State Senator Dan Wolf, D-Harwich, said at a press conference held Monday morning at Chapin’s Restaurant to announce the project.
“This represents one of the biggest conservation opportunities on the coast of Cape Cod,” he said, and is also “literally a seed of the future economy of Cape Cod,” helping to ensure the continuation of the thriving aquaculture and commercial shellfishing industries.
“It is a perfect project,” Wolf said. “It is what I call a win-winwin.”
Preserving ARC’s 39 acres of land will require $3 million for land purchases and conservation easements. The land extends from Cape Cod Bay to Chase Garden Creek and is adjacent to Chapin Beach. It includes a variety of habitats, including barrier beach, coastal dune and wetlands, and is across from Yarmouth’s Gray Beach. Thirty acres will be purchased and set aside as conservation property; the remaining nine acres, which houses the ARC facility and includes several clam growing lagoons, will be placed under a conservation restriction so that the only activity allowed there is the hatchery operation.
The state’s 2016 environmental bond bill will provide $1.5 million. The private Dennis Conservation Trust has committed $325,000 and the Nature Conservancy another$250,000. Massachusetts Conservation Land Credits will offset the cost of the project by $75,000.
Funding from three other public agencies is awaiting final approval. The Barnstable County budget that was set to be voted by the Assembly of Delegates Wednesday includes $250,000 for the project; Dennis town meeting will act on a $400,000 community preservation fund request on May 5; and Yarmouth’s town meeting will be asked to appropriate $200,000 in community preservation funds May 2. There are a lot of moving parts, Wolf commented, but he said he’s confident everything will fall into place and the project will move ahead.
Preserving the land is just one part of the project. The other aspect is preserving ARC so it can continue to meet 80 percent of the seed shellfish demand in Massachusetts. The facility, established in 1960, need modernizing andupgrading; it has operated at full capacity for the past four years and the demand continues to grow, said president Richard Kraus, one of three owners.
Agroup that includes the Fishermen’sAlliance, Wellfleet Shellfish Promotion and Tasting (SPAT) and private investors is raising $1.5 to $2 million to build a new hatchery, plans for which are on the drawing board, said ARC Chief Business Officer Rob Doane. The funds will be invested in ARC in exchange for a 92 percent stake in the company, with the current owners retaining the remaining 8 percent. There will be a new board of directors representing theinvestors which will control the company – Pappalardo said the Alliance would have a representative on the board – and new management will be put in place after the deal is completed. Doane said the current owners will stay on as employees to help with the transition.
The facility uses a considerable amount of energy to raise water temperatures to levels necessary for shellfish to spawn, and a long-term solution to make it more energy efficient and sustainable will be included in the plans, Doane said. An earlier plan to install a wind turbine met with opposition and was withdrawn.
The aim is to have the new facility built in time for the 2016 season, Doane said. An existing warehouse will remain on the property. Plans also call for including a shellfish research and education program as part of the new operation.
While ARC employes 18 people year round, the economic impact of a healthy shellfishing industry extends beyond the company. According to the Cape Cod Extension, there are 1,400 commercial shellfishermen on the Cape. Statewide, the aquaculture industry generated 909 jobs and was valued at $25.4 million in 2013, generating $45.5 million in economic activity. On the Cape, some 70 shellfish farms generate $12.5million annually.
The new facility will allowARC to double production of oyster, scallop and hard-shell clam seed. Currently, Kraus said, it turns out between 100 and 110 million seed a year. Inside the hatchery, wooden walkways over floor drains lead to several rooms containing large vats where shellfish spawn and millions of seeds grow. Technician examine the microscopic seed – some just a few days old – in a laboratory to ensure that they are healthy. Water quality is monitored constantly. In another room, algae, necessary to nourish the seed shellfish, is grown in dozens of seven-foot-tall glass vats surrounded by fluorescentlights to replicate sunlight.
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• Founded in 1960 in Dennis.
• Only commercial shellfish hatchery in Massachusetts.
• Full capacity output of 100-110 million shellfish seed annually.
• Species grown include American oyster, quahog, and bay scallop
ARC owner Dick Kraus explains how algae is grown in large tanks to provide food for the shellfish throughout the growth cycle.
Cape and Islands Senator Dan Wolf addresses a press conference announcing the plans to preserve the ARC operation Monday at Chapin’s Restaurant in Dennis.
Chatham Shellfish Constable Renee Gagne examines seed quahogs at the ARC facility in Dennis.
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It’s an exacting process, Kraus explains. Juvenile oysters, for instance, develop a foot after about 12 day, settle to the bottom, and excrete a cement-like substance. Once they affix to something, they never move. Before that happens the seed are placed in a bins with powdered shells, which they attach to and can then be moved.
Shellfish naturally spawn in the summer, so it’s necessary to raise the temperature of water pumped in from Cape Cod Bay to 75 to 80 degrees. “We’re trying to replicate summer, Kraus said. Wellfleet Harbor is the only place in Massachusetts where oysters spawn in the wild, he added.
ARC also operates a satellite site on Stage Harbor in Chatham, but the lease on that facility runs out this year, Doane said. The company is investigating other locations along Nantucket Sound, preferable because of the good water quality and high water temperatures, including Wychmere Harbor in Harwich.
“We can’t meet the demand as it is now,” Doane said ofthe need for the new hatchery and additional facilities.
ARC also provides bags of broken shells that are soaked in the oyster spat, resulting in more than 10,000 oysters per bag. The bags are opened and the oysters spread in bays to try to recreate oyster reefs to help reduce nitrogen in the water; Falmouth and Mashpee are working on pilot projects using shellfish for nitrogen reduction.
Kraus, who started working at ARC in 1973, said it was the first commercial hatchery of its kind in the country and is still operated today much as it was when it was begun in 1960, before environmental regulations were in place that would not have allowed an industrial operation in the middle of a beach.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind site that probably can never be replicated again,” he said. “Certainly not on Cape Cod.”
SPAT will invest $125,000 in the new facility, the Alliance will contribute $250,000 with the remaining funds provided by private investors and bank loans. Pappalardo said it’s a natural evolution for theAlliance, which initially concentrated on the off-shore fishery and has since become involved with issues in state waters. The in-shore fishery seems a logical next step. The organization has also purchased fisheries permits to help maintain the culture of community-based commercial fishing on the Cape, and he sees investing in ARC as an extension of that. He said fund raising should be wrapped up in the new few months.
“Losing the hatchery is not an option,” he said. “This is our future, so we’ll have an answer when one fishery is in trouble – pick up a rake.”
A video detailing the project can be viewed at zygotedigitalfilms. wistia.com/medias/0us8a2rqv7.
Thirty of ARC’s 39 acres of waterfront property in Dennis will be set as aside as conservancy land in a public-private partnership announced Monday. The remaining land will be reserved for use as a shellfish hatchery and grow-out area.