Although his bid for a three-acre oyster farm off Conimicut Point was voted down by the Marine Fisheries Council last week, Bob Morvillo says he is not giving up.
“I’m still trying to not get frustrated,” said Morvillo in a phone interview yesterday. “I’m staying positive.”
Morvillo’s hope is to create a sustainable oyster farm in a three-acre portion of the bay near his property on Conimicut Point. Through historical research and from his own experience growing up in the area, Morvillo knows the area used to be rich with oysters but a recent survey only turned up one. He hopes with his farm, he can bring back the population and help to sustain the bay.
“It’s all about sustainability,” said Morvillo, adding that the area is the perfect setting for all kinds of juvenile shellfish.
At the Sept. 9 council meeting, a number of concerns regarding the bid for the lease were brought up, including the past presence and potential return of steamers, whelk and the fact that the area is not approved for aquaculture.
“The main objection is the steamers that aren’t there,” said Morvillo. “Supposedly, my lease site would be in the way of that [if they returned in the future].”
But Morvillo is not sure that would be the case. A resident of Conimicut for almost his entire life, he recalls the steamers settling on the north side of the point last time. While he admits he is not a scientist and cannot speak for why steamers stay or go, he believes they nest in the more shallow areas.
“My lease site is not really in that main area,” Morvillo said, adding his site is in slightly deeper water, about 24 to 30 inches deep at low tide. Morvillo says steamers and his oyster farm could co-exist because they settle in different areas.
Jody King, a shell fisherman, former member of the council and chair of the Warwick Harbor Commission, spoke out against the proposed oyster farm during the meeting. He says the main concern is that the area where Morvillo would like to put his farm is used for aquaculture.
King was part of the team that mapped out the bay over a decade ago to determine what areas could be used by shell fishermen, what areas could be used for aquaculture (farms), and what areas are for recreational use. King said that he and others involved in the project went out to public libraries, on radio shows and other similar outlets to ask people what areas of the bay were used for what activities including commercial and recreational fishing, surfing, canoeing, etc. They also looked at closures due to pollution and rain events.
“We did that throughout the state and mapped the bay,” explained King. “I am absolutely not against aquaculture. We have designated places for them and for us to work.”
King explained that the area where Morvillo would like to put his farm is considered Area 1C, which is closed for shellfishing 60 percent of the year due to rain events and pollution. “If he wanted to work during those closures, he would be required by law to go to the Department of Environmental Management and hire a detail officer to go out with him and you can’t harvest during closures,” said King. “How inefficient would that be for Mr. Morvillo?”
King also admits he and other fishermen worked in Area 1C specifically this year to prove that there are shellfish in the area. He pointed out that when a farm is created, it becomes a mini “sanctuary” for the shellfish growing there. Shell fisherman would not be able to touch any of the oysters growing there or any other shellfish such as steamers should they return.
“With that lease, no one else can touch anything [in that area],” said King. “We really don’t want an adversarial relationship [with aquaculturists].”
Looking forward, Morvillo still believes the area in front of his property is perfect for a sustainable oyster farm and he is hoping to work with commercial shell fishermen to come up with a viable plan.
“It’s really coming up with a workable plan for everyone,” he said. “There is a way to make it all work. We’re all in the same choir.”
While King is supportive of aquaculture, he is adamant that the area is not right.
“It’s not the proper location for shellfish to be raised,” said King. “We had very specific areas given to aquaculturists that are not closed periodically due to pollution or rain fall.
Morvillo, who volunteers with the local shell fisherman’s restocking program, says there is no adverse relationship with those who spoke against his farm. Ultimately, he says they are all friendly and want the same thing for the bay. He hopes to create a plan combining his lease with a plan for commercial shell fishermen.
“It might be a way everyone wins,” said Morvillo.
Now, Morvillo is waiting to hear from the Department of Environmental Management regarding his lease, but the ultimate decision in this long process will come from Coastal Resources Management Council.
“I’m not getting discouraged one way or another,” said Morvillo.