USA: Shellfish could become an important part of removing the nitrogen that is polluting town waters, particularly if shorefront property owners are OK with the view.
Selectman Alan McClennen said the comprehensive wastewater management plan for Orleans approved by regulators calls for traditional sewering of about half the town.
"The voters have asked town officials to review this approved plan and see if there are cheaper alternatives to solve the problem of excessive nitrogen fouling our precious waters," he said.
Shellfish, either in the wild fishery or in grants, are one of those alternatives.
Backed by votes from town meeting, an aquaculture pilot project featuring 800 floating bags of oysters was placed in Lonnie's Pond. Most of residents who lived on the shore supported the demonstration, although at least one resident complained that they marred the beauty of the pond.
With the results of that pilot expected within weeks, consultants working for the town are beginning to plan the next project that aims to use shellfish to help restore water quality in Town Cove. Shorefront property owners on Town Cove will be getting a letter in the next week or so that explains the project and asks three questions: How do you feel about shellfish aquaculture located away from moorings and navigation channels in Town Cove? How do you feel about shellfish aquaculture in proximity to your property? and How do you feel about shellfish aquaculture within your viewscape?
The letter was authored by Sia Karplus, of Sciencewares which is in charge of the Lonnie's project, but is being sent on behalf of the town's shellfish working group.
"An important factor in determining the potential for additional shellfish leases in Town Cove is to identify areas where property owners would support achieving environmental restoration goals using shellfish cultivation to remove excess nitrogen from the water," the letter reads.
There are two projects under way in the Cove that is shared by both Orleans and Eastham. One is an assessment of areas where additional shellfish leases might be located and the second is a quahog inventory to establish the baseline population currently in Town Cove. That assessment is expected to provide a basis for determining how many additional quahogs could be planted annually.
There are two oyster grants, one in the Cove and one near Stoney Island, said McClennen in an e-mail, adding that between 100,000 and 200,000 pounds of quahogs are harvested commercially each year in Orleans. The vast majority of the town's quahog harvest comes from the Nauset Estuary. (McClennen said town reports also show the shellfish department has put about 575,000 quahogs each year into Town Cove over the last four years.)
"We know that these two activities remove a certain amount of nitrogen from Town Cove. However, if we need to use this technique (aquaculture) to remove more nitrogen we need to know how many quahogs are actually in the estuary," he said. "We are looking for a cheaper alternative to conventional sewering and one that the regulators can approve."