In conjunction with the Department of Marine Resources, Phippsburg resident Chris Sewall is holding a scoping session at the Phippsburg Town Hall next week to gauge public response to the proposed expansion of his oyster aquaculture business out of Small Point Harbor.
Sewall is the owner and operator of Hermit Island Oyster Company, and has been growing and harvesting the prized shellfish in the harbor for seven years. But per regulations of his Limited Purpose Aquaculture Licenses, he has a cap of 1,600 square feet to lay his oyster cages. An oyster harvester can possess up to four LPAs, each of which grant 400 square feet of ocean to place cages.
The LPAs have to be renewed each year, which Sewall said is a cumbersome process and has led him to seek a standard lease, which grants permanent access to up to 100 acres of ocean. Sewall is seeking a maximum of five acres to expand his business, which he said is taking off.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve figured out what not to do,” said Sewall. “But my LPAs limit me and I need more space.”
As of now, Sewall said he is able to fit 10-12 cages per each LPA, with a total of around 45 cages. An expansion would allow him more cages and the ability to grow more large oysters. In his current situation, the cages spend the summer season on the surface of the water, where young oysters flourish in the sunlight. The cages are then sunk to the bottom during the winter, where the grown adult oysters find more nutrients. Sewall said a standard lease would allow him both surface and bottom cages during the warmer months.
“The idea is once my cages fill up I’ll start transferring larger oysters to the bottom,” Sewall said. “This will enable me to have more adult-sized oysters.”
Sewall said that the space he’s hoping to expand into would not impede boat traffic or moorings, and would not interfere with other fisheries such as lobstering. Sewall said that a lot of his cages would stretch into salt creeks and salt ponds that go unused. The oysters are fed by nutrients in the ocean currents and require no treatment.
“I’m hoping this won’t be controversial,” Sewall said. “This is a sustainable business which I think complements the harbor.”
Sewall said that anyone with waterfront property within 1,000 feet of his cages must be notified when applying for a standard lease, which led him to hold next week’s scoping session.
“Nobody has gone for a lease like this in Phippsburg, so I don’t know what to expect,” said Sewall.
Cindy Burke, a paralegal assistant for the Department of Marine Resources who is working with Sewall on his standard lease application, said that scoping sessions can often determine whether or not harvesters go through with their application.
“If certain concerns are voiced, sometimes that deters people from applying,” said Burke. “You never have an exact idea of how people are going to react, but I don’t believe there will be any problems in Phippsburg. I am anticipating a positive meeting.”
Burke said that once someone applies for an application it can take up to 18 months to be processed by the DMR.
“We have quite a few processing right now,” said Burke. “There seems to be quite an interest in aquaculture. I think people are realizing more and more that they have to think differently on how they are using the waters around us to help sustain their living.”
Chris Sewall’s aquaculture scoping session will be held on Thursday, March 23 at 6 p.m. at the Phippsburg Town Hall.