"Rescue Our River"
The "Rescue Our River" group, an offshoot of the Niantic River Advocacy Coalition, was formed over the second weekend in October 2018. The sole purpose of this group is to dissuade the general public and elected officials of permitting aquaculture within the Niantic River. Specifically, they are targeting Niantic Bay Shellfish Farm's general plans to grow oysters and scallops via type II aquaculture. While Niantic Bay Shellfish Farm and the Niantic River Advocacy Coalition do not see eye-to-eye on many issues, their off-shoot, Save Our River, shall be discussed here and only the issues directly at hand will addressed.
First and foremost, NBSF's (Niantic Bay Shellfish Farm) current application before WELSCO (Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission) will be found to be inconsistent with WELSCO's new policy statement if WELSCO moves forward. Consequently, there is no true pending application sitting at the local, state, or federal level regarding aquaculture within the Niantic River. Thus, for this group to be advertising upcoming meetings under the pretense of a pending application is inaccurate. The upcoming meetings are to discuss the WELSCO policy statement alone, not an application. For certain groups to be drawing concern over meetings via an outdated proposal with inaccurate imagery, even if the imagery is for "illustration only" is misleading at best. Let us take this opportunity to explicate how these images are misleading.
While these photo-shopped images are misleading for many reasons, the syntax used by certain coalitions and groups is also misleading and inflammatory. Consider the four primary reasons given to oppose aquaculture within the Niantic River:
Undermine the protection and enjoyment of natural resources
The opposite is actually true. With NBSF commitment to stock enhancement and with the past and current research projects we have participated in, we can say, without a doubt, we enhance natural resources. Shellfish farming is a net environmental benefit, it is the cleanest most efficient way of growing protein. The more we consume aquaculture goods and less of other sourced foods, we are reducing not only our carbon footprint but also our nitrogen footprint, our planet benefits. WELSCO demands a portion of shellfish as in-kind-payment for leased land so that they can seed the public beds. The spawning shellfish from aquaculture farms increase the bio-density of native stock, not to mention improve water quality overall. Also, do not forget that the State of CT pays more attention to areas with commercial harvests which can result in better sampling and thus longer harvest seasons for the public.
Put paddlers (canoes, kayaks and other small watercraft) at risk
All aquaculture projects undergo a boating safety review via the DEEP. If the Save Our River group actually spent time on the River, they would know that the only public launch south of the federal channel is at Cini Park. Thus, if you want to go up River, or out to the Bay, you must cross the Federal Channel, the sittng of an aquaculture project does not alter this fact. All NBSF proposals, in the area near Cini park ,have been nearly 1000' away from the public launch. Furthermore, canoes, kayaks and other small water craft are welcomed to explore any aquaculture site. By leasing ground, only the taking of shellfish from that area is prohibited. Hopefully, as is common in RI and MA, people will come explore and interact with any NBSF project site within the Niantic River. Just make sure your hands are not sticky!
Threaten the economic well being of communities on both sides of the river
If one business, based on the heritage of our town and consistent with the oldest land/water use of both Towns (farming), located along a state route backed by Amtrak lines, two bridges, a nuclear power plant and tens or acres of commercial marinas is going to destroy the economic well being of our communities then there is a very serious issue with the communities economic stability at large. In fact, I would argue the economic impact of aquaculture revitalizes and diversifies active waterfronts that have been hurting for the last four decades. With the many towns using aquaculture as Eco-tourism (Wellfleet, Duxbury and many others) it should be clear that such a project can be a draw not a drawback. Check out some of the sources listed for economic impact studies/reports.
Prioritize business profits over public access to our river (and with NO financial benefit to our towns)
First and foremost, this project does not limit public access, it may restrict certain public uses, that is true. Just as docks, moorings, crab pots, and fishing from shore restricts other uses, so does aquaculture. It should be noted here that due to the national interest for aquaculture, and the necessity of water dependence, this type of aquaculture is well within the guidelines of the CT Coastal Management Act. To insinuate that such a use is inconsistent with the laws of our Nation and State is inaccurate. While certain points have been raised to the nature of farming and tax breaks, I say this, if farming and aquaculture is such a great business model, instead of complaining about laws, leave your occupation and start a farm. I pay my taxes to whom they are due, I spend significant amounts of private capital for tools, gear, supplies, insurance, wages, etc. last time I checked, this all adds to the GDP and tax base. The local shellfish commissions have the right by CT Statue to collect rent/fees, in what form or quantity is their discretion, I have always paid my dues and will continue to do so.
Let us consider just a few more inaccurate assertions:
"This kind of industrial farming equipment is new to our region and will have an irreversible, adverse impact on our river, the estuary..."
First, what is industrial farming? This form of aquaculture is by no means "industrial" if you want industrial aquaculture visit Japan and China. Which adverse impacts? Can we cite the volumes of literature that conclude from scientific studies that type two aquaculture is the lowest impact farming of any farming practices? What about the filtration capacity of shellfish? What about the reseeding efforts? New to our region? Cpt. John Wadsworth was doing this in the early 2000's and others in the 1990's before him. In fact, cultivation (farming, aquaculture) goes back to Roman times and can be traced to the 1800's in Connecticut.
"The Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission (WELSCO) has acted, outside of its statutory authority, and expanded its powers to allow industrial shellfish operations in the river..."
Perhaps the coalitions and groups spewing such things should have their lawyers read CT general Statues Sec. 26-257a "(b) Such commission shall have charge of all the shellfisheries and shellfish grounds lying in such municipality or municipalities not granted to others and not under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Agriculture, including all rivers, inland waters and flats adjacent to all beaches and waters within the limits and marine bounds of the municipality or municipalities. The commission may designate suitable places in the navigable waters within its jurisdiction for planting or cultivating oysters, clams or mussels." Again, the earliest leases in the Niantic River date back to 1876, these leases can be found in the public land records if you choose to investigate.
All in all, one must be careful of information broadcasted online, not everything you read or hear is true. Such projects as mine are run across New England in small and big towns alike without issue. To attempt to defraud one plan based on inaccurate information is disheartening and inappropriate. While there are real concerns regarding such aquaculture, these can be addressed and resolved. I would encourage everyone to browse credible information, read the past minutes from local commissions and most of all come and speak with me after a meeting. If I can answer a question or provide you with appropriate information, I am more than willing. I look forward to working in the Niantic River, growing great food for you, supporting the next generation of watermen/women, all while ensuring our estuary is as clean and healthy as it can be.
To the bright future,