Excited by the prospect of a new commercial fishery in this coastal town, Scituate officials recently took the first step toward licensing oyster farming in waters at the northernmost end of town — much to the dismay of some Cohasset neighbors who say the aquaculture business could ruin their community’s recreational sailing programs.
More than 500 people have signed an online petition against Scituate oyster farming, according to Timothy Davis, who chairs the Cohasset Harbor Committee and is among those leading the opposition.
Key to the conflict is the farm’s proposed location — in what’s known as Cohasset Outer Harbor. The protected water historically has been controlled by Scituate, but is most accessible to Cohasset.
Scituate’s Board of Selectmen, which voted in early December to adopt rules for shellfish farming in town, acknowledge that the targeted area is Cohasset-centric and used extensively by sailing education programs out of the public Cohasset Sailing Club and private Cohasset Yacht Club.
“I know it’s our land, not their land, but it’s been a gentleman’s handshake — and it’s a part of our South Shore culture,” Selectwoman Maura Curran said before the board’s unanimous vote.
But Curran and other board members said they believe oyster farming and youth sailing can peacefully coexist. And they said any potential problems can be ironed out in a trial pilot program.
“Nobody wants to ruin recreational use or do any environmental damage,” Selectwoman Karen Connolly said, adding that there is “nothing we are doing out there that cannot be removed; we are not building a wind turbine.
“Whatever we put out there, if it doesn’t work, we pick it up and it goes away,” she said.
In fact, before any oyster farming can start, state and federal agencies — including the state Division of Marine Fisheries and the US Army Corps of Engineers — must approve the plan. The local Conservation Commission also gets involved, officials said.
Jamie Davenport, a Scituate resident whose family runs an oyster farm in Dennis, was involved with writing Scituate’s aquaculture rules and plans to apply for a local license.
He’s confident that conflicts can be resolved and that Scituate will develop an oyster farming industry that brings attention and cash to town — just as it has two towns down the coast in Duxbury.
“What excited us a year and a half ago, when this was first proposed, is that it is so in keeping with the heritage of our community,” said Selectwoman Karen Canfield. “And I think we can do it respectfully and coexist.”
Davis and others opposing the plan are not convinced. They look at the shallow protected waters that are perfect for children learning to sail and say an oyster farm there is inherently incompatible and dangerous for inexperienced sailors.
“We don’t know what legal and regulatory rights we as a community have,” Davis said. “But we will be looking at it — and seeing what we can do to prevent this from happening.”
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.