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To Swap Boats for Oysters

Wed, 11/24/2021 - 09:53

The owner of Sunset Cove Marina, on Folkstone Creek off Three Mile Harbor in Springs, plans to convert a portion of the marina to a commercial oyster growing operation.

At the trustees’ meeting on Monday, John Nicholas, who is also the owner of East Hampton Oyster Company, told them of his plan to operate an oyster farm there, and said he has obtained the necessary permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and from the town’s Building Department.

The trustees were cool to the proposal when Mr. Nicholas brought it to them in March 2019. On Monday, they were far more receptive, but questioned whether the proposal would run afoul of any town agencies such as the Natural Resources or Planning Departments.

The D.E.C. has granted a permit for five floating upweller units, a shellfish growing unit known as a flupsy, as well as 18 floating cages and 200 mesh bags. Mr. Nicholas will reduce the number of boat slips at the marina from 22 to 10, the oyster-growing gear displacing the slips, with the remaining slips removed in the future in a second phase of the conversion.

Navigable waterways will not be restricted by the gear, he said, stating that Ed Michels, the chief harbormaster, has confirmed that Mr. Nicholas is “simply exchanging boats for oysters.”

Mr. Nicholas formally asked that the trustees, stewards of most underwater land in the town outside of Montauk, permit him to operate an oyster farm under the same guidelines and permits granted by the D.E.C. and the town. He said that he hopes to be an example for other marinas on Long Island and elsewhere to “think about the environment first, instead of boats.”

Oysters are filter-feeding organisms. Rates of oyster filtering are said to range from 30 to 50 gallons per day. Mr. Nicholas said he and his family “look forward to adding oysters to East Hampton waterways and improving water quality and overall environmental health.”

Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences has been conducting water quality tests at the marina for the past six months, Mr. Nicholas said, and has proposed a comprehensive environmental review of the site before, during, and after the implementation of the oyster farm. This will include an analysis of water as well as insect and plant life, he said.

Mr. Nicholas is a partner in oyster growing sites in Gardiner’s and Napeague Bays under the Suffolk County Aquaculture Lease Program. The plan is to transfer juvenile oysters from the marina site to the leased sites for further growth, he said.

While the trustees were generally supportive of the idea, “I think some monitoring is definitely called for here as a permit condition,” said John Aldred, a former director of the town’s shellfish hatchery. “We might have to have some discussions between the trustees and John and Dr. Gobler to come to some consensus on what would be an appropriate monitoring protocol for approaching the construction of the farm and the stocking of the farm, and into full production so we have a good idea of environmental conditions in the creek, and how they’re responding to the production that is planned.”

Mr. Gobler, Mr. Nicholas said, feels that there is “enough algae for all the oysters we could possibly grow in this area.”

“You deserve a commendation for transferring marina slips used for recreational pleasure and making it into something environmentally beneficial,” said Mike Martinsen, who is also an oyster farmer. “Thank you for being a steward for our waters.” Bill Taylor also signaled his support.

The trustees asked that Mr. Nicholas ensure that his proposal will comply with all town regulations. He is to provide documentation before they complete their deliberations. The trustees’ next meeting will be on Dec. 13.

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