Devil Fish

Mussels in Massachusetts
by Emma Kelley -- November 7th, 2013

For those readers unfamiliar with the goings on in New England, the controversial Cape Wind project is moving forward this year.  Despite the intense debate surrounding the project, the first offshore wind farm in America has opened the door on the new commercial activity in federal waters.

Following closely behind the Cape Wind project, but with significantly less controversy is a proposal to create a mussel farm in the waters adjacent to the wind farm.  This project sets a precedent for innovative aquaculture in federal waters and is a step forward for New England fisheries.

I was extremely skeptical when I first started reading about this proposal.  More commercial fishing in an already overfished region of the country?  Many of the fisheries in New England are in shambles.  Years of mismanagement have led to historical lows for some fish species, particularly cod.   This interesting video describes how cod in New England have been overfished.

Fishermen face intense economic stress in the face of the devastating, but necessary, catch quotas set this year.  According to NOAA’s FishWatch and 2012 publication on the state of the world’s fisheries, we import 91% of our seafood from other countries.  As a nation, we need to figure out ways to satisfy our taste for seafood, without fishing out all that’s left in the ocean.

Mussel farms may be one answer.  Half of the 16.6 Billion USD worth of seafood imported in 2011 was from aquaculture, including mussels.

In early October, the comment period closed for a Chatham shellfisherman’s proposal to create a 30-acre mussel farm on Horseshoe Shoals, in Narragansett Bay.  This farm will be the first aquaculture project in federal waters.  The proposed plan would place 120-meter-long lines six to eight meters below the sea surface.  From each line, up to one hundred “mussel socks” may be deployed.  Mussel socks are bags containing “mussel seeds”, small mussels that are only one or two centimeters long.  As these small mussels grow, they attach themselves onto the rope, and the bag eventually dissolves.  This video takes a look at Canada’s sustainable mussel farming.

Mussel line.

Mussel line. Photo credit: Kristian Rasmussen

A recent article in the Cape Cod Times reviews the plan and interviewed the director of Woods Hole’s Scientific Aquaculture Program, Scott Lindell.  Lindell explains that these mussel-covered ropes can be harvested during the first year of farming.

Harvesting the mussel lines.

Harvesting the mussel lines.
Photo credit: Kristian Rasmussen

What about the environmental impacts?  Various studies support that they will not be substantial.  The largest impact seems to be changes in the biochemistry and benthic community structures in the sediment beneath these farms, a small price to pay in comparison with the complete destruction of the seafloor bottom by other shellfish fisheries.

One concern addressed in the Cape Cod Times article, is that marine animals may become entangled in the lines.  However, the lines have been designed to be taut enough to repel turtles, and very few whales are found in the proposed area.

Mussel farm buoys.

Mussel farm buoys. Photo credit: R. Vaughan

The US Army Corps of Engineers are currently considering the project.  The federal government needs to support this project and develop a process for aquaculture permitting in federal waters.  The passing of this proposal and the development of mussel farms in New England waters will hopefully be the first of many new sustainable fisheries solutions for the United States.

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