By Kathryn G. Menu
Just days after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) closed shell fishing in Sag Harbor Cove and Upper Sag Harbor Cove, Simon Harrison was approved by the village board to raise oysters on a fixed village dock next to the Breakwater Yacht Club on Bay Street.
Harrison, owner of Simon Harrison Real Estate on Long Wharf, said this is a program he hopes will continue to benefit water quality around the village and become a part of a larger effort to educate people about the crisis local waters currently face.
Harrison earned the support of the village Harbor Committee on Monday night before gaining approval from the Sag Harbor Village Board Tuesday night.
Harrison has been working with the Southold Project in Aquaculture (SPAT) through the Sag Harbor Oyster Club — founded in 2009 — to raise the oysters underneath the village’s Bay Street dock, formally the Mobil pier. This will be his second year using that location.
The oysters are harvested and released into Sag Harbor before they are large enough to be considered marketable, and therefore, poachable. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) prohibits shell fishing between the bridge and the breakwater because of water quality concerns.
Harrison obtains his oyster spat, or seeds, from the SPAT program on the North Fork and releases the full harvest back into Sag Harbor.
“The whole point is to release the oysters so they reproduce and clean our water,” said Harrison.
Oysters act as natural filters, consuming algae and filtering as much as two gallons of water per hour. With the introduction of an oyster reef or garden, bay grasses thrive, which in turn increases oxygen levels in the water, preventing erosion and creating habitats for marine life.
Harrison has between 5,000 and 6,000 oysters at his location, which will be released before reaching maturity.
Harrison noted a number of waterfront homeowners, including those in the oyster club, have dedicated themselves to raising oysters for these very reasons, with those in the coves facing challenges last season when those waterways experienced a harmful red tide algae bloom for the first time.
Last week the DEC announced that as of sunrise on Friday, May 10, both Sag Harbor Cove and the Upper Cove would be closed to shell fishing as a result of the discovery of a marine biotoxin. The harvest of both shellfish and carnivorous gastropods, like whelks, conch and moon snails, is prohibited by the DEC on a temporary basis until further notice. According to the DEC, carnivorous gastropods feed on shellfish and may accumulate biotoxins at levels that are hazardous to human health.
The impacted area includes about 490 acres — all areas of the cove and its tributaries lying westerly of the northbound lanes of the Lance Corporal Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge.
The DEC made the decision after shellfish collected in the cove tested positive for saxitoxin, a biotoxin that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.
According to a DEC statement, the agency will test the coves on a weekly basis and once three consecutive tests have shown no traces of the biotoxin, the area will be re-opened to shell fishing.
Oysters are filter feeders, meaning once the algae bloom dissipates the shellfish will filter the toxin out of its flesh and become safe for consumption again over time.
The DEC is maintaining an updated recording regarding the shellfish closure, which can be heard at 444-0480.
It’s closures like these that worry Harrison, who believes the community should be rallying around the issue of water quality. To that end, Harrison said he would like to work with local government officials and community members on creating a local guide about waterfront protection similar to Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod’s guides through the publication “Island Pages.”
Based on a publication from Puget Sound, the 50-page manual is envisioned as being one distributed to every household with the goal that it becomes a go-to family guide for everything related to water quality from ecological lawn care to non-toxic bottom paints for boats to general best practices as homeowners living on the waterfront.
Harrison has permission to use the “Island Pages” format, he said, and is looking for partners in the initiative.
“I like everything you are doing,” said Harbor Committee chairman Bruce Tait on Monday. The board said it would review the Island Pages idea to see what kind of help it can offer Harrison.
In other Harbor Committee news, the board held a discussion with attorney Dennis Downes over a proposal by his client, Todd Rome, to build a modular home, new pool and deck at his Terry Drive property.
That project earned a pyramid variance from the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) earlier this spring.
Downes said in addition to building the modular home and deck on the narrow lot, a pool was also proposed. A 15-foot vegetative buffer is proposed to the beach grass, said Downes, which is 10-feet less than the minimum requirements under the village code.
Downes argued this is technically not a wetlands buffer as the closest wetlands would be in the water off the beach. He added no other houses in the neighborhood have vegetative buffers.
“But they will have to have a buffer when they rebuild,” said Tait.
The village’s environmental planning consultant Richard Warren added that the code actually requires 75-feet of buffer but on undersized lots the committee has the ability to reduce that to 25-feet.
He added if the pool was reconfigured more buffer space could be accommodated.
“We are talking about giving them relief for accessory structures,” said Warren. “I don’t sit up there. I don’t vote. But I think you have to think about that.”
Tait said he would like to see a revision that presents an “honest effort” at trying to create a 25-foot vegetative buffer.
Lastly, Madeline and David Haver and Loren Taggart were approved for a fixed and floated dock at their Redwood Road home, although the permit is conditional on an approved planting plan by the committee.