Oyster cage proposal causes concern among G.I. residents

by Peter J. Teagle - Posted on May 16, 2018 - 03:57 PM

Photo: Above is an example of one of the oyster cages that would be used in Kevin Wade’s proposed project. The cages are anchored to the bottom with an auger and have two floats on top; 700 of these cages would comprise a 5.5 acres marked with orange buoys in the vicinity of Island Seafood on Gwynn’s Island. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Above is an example of one of the oyster cages that would be used in Kevin Wade’s proposed project. The cages are anchored to the bottom with an auger and have two floats on top; 700 of these cages would comprise a 5.5 acres marked with orange buoys in the vicinity of Island Seafood on Gwynn’s Island. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Photo: One of Kevin Wade’s oyster cages is shown here floating in the water. Photo by Peter J. Teagler

One of Kevin Wade’s oyster cages is shown here floating in the water. Photo by Peter J. Teagler

An application for 700 oyster cages in the vicinity of Milford Haven would help cultivate job growth in the seafood business, but that hasn’t prevented controversy from being dredged up in the form of multiple formal protests by Gwynn’s Island residents.

The application to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission is being submitted by Kevin Wade of J&W Seafood of Deltaville and Island Seafood of Gwynn’s Island.

Wade’s proposal details a 5.5-acre area where there would be 17 rows of cages in three 200-foot sections, according to the application filed with the VMRC.

Water depth at the site ranges from 6-10 feet and would be accessed from nearby Island Seafood.

Seafloor anchors in the form of augers with top loops will be required as part of the project and Wade stated in his application that “Drilling of the seafloor anchors will be the only disturbance of the bottom.”

The total project is expected to cost Wade $100,000 in materials, labor and other expenses, according to the application.

Residents’ concerns

This application has resulted in seven protest letters with nearby property owners expressing personal concerns ranging from ecology and environmental issues to unappealing appearance, boater safety, and the fear of reduction in property values.

One particularly lengthy protest letter described the fear that the value of a family home would take a hit because of the presence of commercial aquaculture.

Robert Stagg, who oversees habitat management for VMRC, offered this in response to the property value concern: “While we do often receive protests for projects like this one … we have never seen any empirical evidence that approval has adversely affected highland property values.” 

While he said that “some effect” was not out of the realm of possibility, Stagg maintained that a decrease in property values as a result of lease applications near the shore where bottom cages may be placed was not supported by evidence.

Wade echoed a similar sentiment, saying that he’s been in this line of work since 1982 and has never seen any data supporting the common fear of lost residential property values.

Statewide, approximately 600,000 oysters are harvested each year from public fisheries whereas roughly 1 million are consumed, said retired VMRC official Dr. Jim Wesson, who advises local watermen and businesspeople on this and similar issues.

Private leases for cultivation like Wade’s, as well as importing oysters from out of state, serve to supplement oyster demand.

The increase in national demand for oysters over the last decade (in land-locked states especially), as well as the fact that oysters harvested from public fisheries cannot be relied on year-round, means that demand often outpaces supply.