Recreational oystering shut down for now

By Caitlin Russell | Jan 30, 2013

Oyster lovers will have to be satisfied with the raw bar this summer. The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday voted to shut down recreational oystering in Wareham for the time being.

The shutdown is in response to a proposal by Wareham Harbormaster Garry Buckminster, who says there has been a steep decline in the oyster population, even in areas that used to boast large oyster stocks.

The board plans to revisit the issue on September 15, and decide whether to reopen the fishery for recreational oystering.

“Closing it until September and taking another look at it makes sense to me,” said Selectmen Chair Steve Holmes.

Buckminster shut down commercial oystering on Dec. 28. Oyster farmers who raise oysters in enclosed structures are not part of the closure.

Buckminster stated his case to the board at the Jan. 9 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, but the board held off on voting on the closure until presented with more information.

Since then, Buckminster has met with commercial fishermen and oyster farmers to discuss the issue.

“The biggest step is realizing that we can’t keep beating up on the fishery,” said Buckminster.

Commercial fisherman Peter Tamagini spoke in support of the closure on Tuesday.

“I’m very in favor of Garry closing the fishery temporarily,” said Tamagini. “I think we need to take positive steps to rebuild the oyster stock.”

Tamagini recalled the time he spent oystering the late 1990s.

“I would fill up my skiff with oysters off of Onset bar," he said. "It wasn’t uncommon to do four bushels in an hour.”

There are a number of factors that have led to the depletion of the oyster population, including dredging, overfishing, and a disease that is particularly harmful to oysters called Dermo.

According to Buckminster, there are still enough adult oysters in the area for the oyster population to rebound naturally through spawning. Buckminster is also hoping to set up an aquaculture system at the Onset Pier, where oyster seed would be placed in an enclosed structure, giving the little oysters (about 1.5 mm each) a safe place to grow.

“Aquaculture is not a guaranteed fix…you’re going to have mortality,” but despite the risk of mortality, it could still be a valuable tool in replenishing the oyster stock, Buckminster said.

Buckminster also plans to distribute “culch” in the area. Culch comprised of broken shells, and gives the oyster spawn something to attach to so it can grow.

Oysters can take from 14 to as long as 18 months to two years to reach harvestable size.

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