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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Shellfish Aquaculture in a Salt Marsh

I spend some of my spare time searching property listings all over the US to help improve my understanding of real estate trends in all of the markets where I may eventually want to buy land. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across two relatively cheap parcels of land for sale in Gloucester, MA.
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The description for both properties is as follows: Wetlands, unbuildable. Sold as is. Estate sale, Subject to Administrator obtaining a license to sell. Closing to be 5 days from date license to sell is granted. Cash only, no contingencies/cash to be verified at time of offer. Water View, possibly a prime spot for bird watching and/or hunting if legally permitted. Listing broker and or Administrator make no representations whatsoever about use. Buyer and/or buyer agent to perform all due diligence.

The real estate agent was unable or unwilling to provide additional information and suggested that I ask the building inspector for Gloucester to find out what I might be allowed to do with this land. So, I did quite a bit of research and reading to try to form my own opinion about possible use of this land. Apparently the reason these parcels are so cheap is because each parcel consists almost entirely of salt marsh and very little adjacent land. Massachusetts and several other states in New England have designated quite a bit of coastal areas as protected land and they prohibit most building and impose restrictions on land use to prevent further degradation of the coastal ecosystem.

Maybe it's just because this property would be so affordable, but the idea of owning a salt marsh appealed to me for some reason. So I did quite a bit of research and reading about salt marshes, estuaries, shellfish, and environmental issues. Below are several of the most interesting things I found:

  • Gloucester, Massachusetts, Code of Ordinances Sec. 12-11. - Statement of jurisdiction.
    (a) Except as provided by this article or permitted by the Gloucester Conservation Commission (the "commission") no person shall remove, fill, dredge, alter or build upon or within any resource areas or the buffer zone.
    (b) The following areas, also referred to as resource areas, are subject to protection under this article:
    (1) Any bank, any freshwater wetland, any coastal wetland, any beach, any dune, any flat, any marsh, or any swamp, bordering on the ocean, any estuary, any creek, any river, any stream, any pond or any lake.
  • Shellfish Aquaculture in Massachusetts - September 2000 Private aquaculture involves licensing tracts of marine intertidal and subtidal areas for private use to grow a variety of commercial shellfish species, including quahogs and oysters. Local shellfish hatchery and nursery businesses often support public and private aquaculture operations and municipal restoration programs.
  • Biorock® Mineral Accretion Technology For Reef Restoration, Mariculture and Shore Protection The Global Coral Reef Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to growing, protecting and managing the most threatened of all marine ecosystems—coral reefs. We primarily focus on coral reef restoration, marine diseases and other issues caused by global climate change, environmental stress and pollution.
  • Electrical Restoration of oysters and saltmarsh at a New York City Estuarine Wetland Oysters receiving low amounts of electrical current increased in length 5.82 times faster than controls, and oysters receiving higher amounts of current grew 9.30 times faster than controls over the 2011 summer growing season.
  • Gloucester Shellfish Department - Permits and Fees The Shellfish Department is responsible for monitoring Gloucester shellfish harvesting areas and enforcing both Gloucester shellfishing regulations and State of Massachusetts laws in order to conserve and protect the city's shellfish resources and promote public health.
  • Cultured Aquaculture Species Northern Quahog Clams prefer sediments that are a mixture of sand and mud with some coarse material. They range from the intertidal zone to 15 m. The seed reach approximately 10-15 mm in year 0, and approximately 25-30 mm shell length by the end of year 1.

    During the first year of life the animals are subject to high losses from invertebrate and vertebrate predators, chiefly crabs. They become less susceptible to predators when they reach 20-25 mm shell length, and only large crustaceans (lobsters), large snails, a few fish and birds can consume mature hard clams. The average life span has been estimated to be between 12-20 years, but clams older than 50 years have been reported.

    Ongrowing techniques: Clams are planted in plots in the intertidal or shallow subtidal zones. In most areas these are covered with a plastic mesh (6.4 or 12.7 mm square mesh) to prevent predation losses. In some locations clams are planted in mesh bags which are staked to the bottom. Plot maintenance involves regular (at least weekly) monitoring to check the mesh for damage and to remove fouling. Clams reach market size in 1-1.5 years in southern waters and 2-4 years in more northern locations.

    Hard clam seed (10-12 mm size) typically cost from USD 25-30/1000. Other costs are nominal, but include the cost of the mesh, any hold-down devices and ancillary field gear. The main costs other than the seed are the boat, its engine, and the labour required to tend the plots. Typically, survival to market in the plots averages 50-70 per cent. Below 50 per cent it becomes unprofitable to grow clams. Occasionally, survival exceeds 70 per cent, but that cannot be expected as routine.

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