Oyster Beds Closed Along Mashnee Dike
By: Diana T. Barth
In what Bourne Natural Resources Director Timothy W. Mullen predicted would be an unpopular, albeit necessary, measure, he recommended this week that the oyster beds off the Mashnee Island dike be closed to shellfishing, effective yesterday. After hearing that both state and local officials were concerned that keeping those beds open could completely “wipe them out,” selectmen voted Tuesday in favor of the closure, made for the purposes of “propagation and general management of the fishery.”
The closure will last for an “indefinite period,” perhaps until the start of the 2012 oyster season. Oystering season normally runs during November and December, on Sundays only. If the beds had remained open this year, the oysters would not last a season, and would not be able to reproduce for the 2012 season, Mr. Mullen said.
The closure affects the waters off the dike from the “No Shellfishing” sign at the end of the access path on the northerly side of the dike, running for 1,100 feet to a similar sign on the southerly side. The closure would extend to floating markers placed 150 feet offshore.
Mr. Mullen said that his department then planned to put some 30,000 oysters from one to three inches in size into the dike area, adding that he anticipated that the 40,000 oysters expected to be grown as part of a Massachusetts Maritime Academy project would be considered for seeding in that area, as well.
Selectman John A. Ford Jr., questioned whether it was a good idea to put all of the stock, some 70,000 oysters, into the dike area. He said he wanted to ensure that Bourne’s seniors had a good place to harvest them, and access to the Mashnee Island dike was limited and often difficult.
Other areas in town, however, had their own issues, including with oyster drills, which have been described as small sea snails that prey directly on shellfish, usually on small American oysters. Certain areas, like some of the waters off Monument Beach did not lend themselves to oysters, Mr. Mullen said; others, like Squeteague Harbor, were recovering from junior oyster disease,
Mr. Mullen also said that he wished access were more of an issue in the dike area; then, he said, those beds might not be under such pressure. He explained that the easily harvested, hard-shelled, healthy oysters those beds contained had become increasingly popular, in spite of the fact that access to them was limited.
People came by boat, were dropped off on the dike, or parked a distance away and walked in, he said.
Mr. Ford then said that he had been on hand for the last day of oystering season in December of 2010, adding that there were still plenty of oysters available as that season ended. He asked what happened to the beds.
After the close of the season, Mr. Mullen said, the dike area’s popularity continued among those persons who had a license to shellfish during the off-season.
Native American fishing rights, for example, allow for fishing for “sustenance” at any season that the resource is available. Those rights have been recognized for more than 300 years by a succession of treaties, statutes, and legal decisions. Mr. Ford asked if what constituted “sustenance” was a defined amount, and if the off-season take could be limited, if that were to become an issue. He also wondered if illegal commercial operations had taken place, and thus how visible the beds would be when they were again populated. Mr. Mullen assured selectmen that the area was very visible, including from the Monument Beach marina area.
It was suggested that Mr. Mullen discuss the area with members of the Bourne Shellfish Working Group going forward. Mr. Ford said that, with oysters at a premium, he was “looking to spread the wealth.”
Although he accepted Mr. Mullen’s recommendations, he commented that he would be revisiting the issues again in the future.