An in-water aquaculture business park and incubator assistance program proposed for Mathews County got a thumbs-down during a meeting last week from members of a management team established to help determine its feasibility.
The committee was comprised largely of experienced watermen and already-established aquaculture businessmen, and they appeared unanimous in their opposition.
Jack White, owner of New Point Oyster Company, said that business development should be left to the private sector, which needs to "step up." He said that the oyster industry was experiencing a lot of success without government intervention.
Andrew Maggard, a U.S. Navy retiree and the son of a former Mathews waterman, called the proposed program "a boondoggle" and said he didn’t think it was a good idea.
David Davis, a former school teacher and administrator, said he would like to see the free market take care of oysters. A proposed certification program for oyster aquaculture "looks like a professional employment program," he said.
Lewie Lawrence, acting director of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, said that Mathews supervisors asked the MPPDC to explore the idea of an aquaculture park, and that the committee’s reaction to the proposal was significantly different from that expressed in a survey conducted by the commission.
Lawrence said that 76.2 percent of the respondents to the survey said they would support the park as an economic strategy to create jobs and build wealth, while 52.4 percent of those completing the survey said they would be interested in growing clams and/or oysters in tanks and cages as a profession. In addition, 47.6 percent of those responding said they would start or expand a new business if Mathews County provides quality river bottom for growing oysters and clams, as well as business training, marketing services and low-interest loans.