By Doreen Leggett
Michael DeVasto is an oyster grower, wild harvester, and Wellfleet selectman, so when he was appointed to the Massachusetts Shellfish Initiative he had clear ideas about what he wanted to see happen.
After more than two years, the lengthy report was completed and DeVasto, backdropped by a photo of his hometown, was on a press webinar with nearly 100 people for the release.
He went through his objectives one by one.
Did MSI preserve home rule, allowing each town to manage its shellfish resource? Check.
Did MSI prioritize economic sustainability for shellfishermen when it comes to using shellfish to help in wastewater treatment? Check.
Did MSI work to improve direct-to-consumer sales for shellfishermen who can find themselves shut out of buy local movements? Check.
Did MSI improve traceability opportunities? Check.
Will the new Shellfish Advisory Panel that will be responsible for moving the recommendations forward have adequate numbers of harvesters? Check.
“Everything that I think were primary objectives for me … are accomplished in this final report,” he said.
That report, first of its kind in the state, is a strategic plan with recommendations on how to balance growing and competing demands for shellfish resources to create a stronger shellfish industry. It is the result of an intensive effort by the state Division of Marine Fisheries, stakeholders, and committed organizations – Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, Massachusetts Aquaculture Association, The Nature Conservancy, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – who saw complex issues like climate change and competing uses in nearshore areas and wanted the state to be prepared.
Dan McKiernan, director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, said the Shellfish Advisory Panel is one of the most important recommendations of the task force. The panel can work on ideas brought up in the plan such as developing incentives, metrics, and outcomes for municipal shellfish management and providing for public input on shellfish issues.
In addition to filtering water and providing habitat for a host of marine life, shellfish support thousands of year-round jobs plus recreational shellfish fishing opportunities. Massachusetts boasted more than $45 million in commercial shellfish landings from state waters in 2018.
Recreational shellfisheries are also very popular, but value is not measured; one of the MSI recommendations is to quantify that value by asking towns to have people report last year’s landings when they renew their permits.
The 21-member task force’s overarching goals included educating growers on opportunities beyond oysters and incentivizing nature-based solutions to address stormwater and wastewater management (think salt marsh and cranberry bog protection/restoration).
Melissa Sanderson, chief operating officer at the Fishermen’s Alliance, served on the task force.
“Shellfish is so important to wild harvest fishermen for business diversification – filling in the gaps when they can’t go offshore because of weather or fishing closures. Commercial wild harvest shellfishing is also an important entry point into the fishing industry,” Sanderson said. “A few years before MSI started, the Fishermen’s Alliance became investors in the local shellfish hatchery in order to save it and ensure that there would be shellfish seed available for town shellfish enhancement programs and shellfish growers.”
Sanderson also pointed out that hundreds of people participated and she thanked them. Now, she said, making it work will take the public as a whole; the wild shellfish population is a public resource.
“Everybody, whether you are a shellfisherman or not, should care about having healthy shellfish populations,” Sanderson said.
Click here to see the report.