Floating Oyster Farm Proposal in Newington Creates Waves

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Doug Ross photo

Photo taken off the Durham shore in Little Bay of floating oyster crates and staging area.


NEWINGTON – A plan to create a floating oyster farm in Little Bay has recreational anglers, town officials and some shoreline residents concerned as the state continues to respond to growing demand for water acreage in the fastest growing segment of the seafood industry.

The state Fish and Game Department is allowing for public comment through next Tuesday on the permit before Executive Director Scott Mason makes a determination.

Jonathan Bunker of Colrain, Mass., owner of Bayside Oyster Farm LLC, has applied to the state’s Fish and Game Department to create a two-acre floating farm in Broad Cove. It is part of his 3.5 acre site which he has a permit for submerged or off-bottom culture farming.

This summer, Bunker hopes to use 30 cages strung together in rows 15 feet apart on the eastern portion of the site he has been permitted for underwater farming but these would be visible cages floating during the fishing season and removed or submerged for winter.

He did not return InDepthNH.org’s Monday email request for further information sent to an address he placed on the permit application.

The state has floating sites approved in Hampton Harbor and Little Bay as oyster farmers say they get better, faster growth on the water surface with more access to nitrogen and they are easier to maintain.

But for others who attended a public hearing April 23, floating oyster farms, tied together in large blocked areas become a navigational hazard, are unsightly and a potential drag on shoreline property values. 

Former Rockingham County Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Ross of Newington, whose property looks out on a submerged oyster farm, said he likes it that way. He is opposing the floating project arguing in a letter he shared with InDepthNH.org that this would convert scenic, public property to become the equivalent “of a floating junkyard.”

Others who testified at a public hearing in Durham were recorded as expressing concern for property values, emergency water responses, impacts to bird migration, and creating a commercial use at a recreational marina where Bunker said he plans to work from.

The one person who testified in support of the proposal, Chris Gallagher is a fellow aquaculture farmer who has one of the floating licenses issued by the state so far.

He said other coastal states in the region are embracing the growing industry and New Hampshire stands as a “bottleneck” by primarily focusing only on submerged farms.

Gov. Chris Sununu was asked about the floating oyster farming practice and what policy the state should take toward them.

He said there are many determinant and competing factors which have to be weighed, including business concerns.

“First of all we have to look at it from a safety issue. Boating. I don’t know what these physical structures would look like, where they would be, are they in navigable waterways? I assume they are in some form. I know the current beds sit at the bottom of navigable waterways,” Sununu said.

Sununu said he would be willing to work with various state departments and other groups “but anything out on the water is always a little bit contentious.”

In colonial times the state’s shorelines and estuaries were lined with oysters which provided a natural framework and cleansing buffer for water.

Over-harvesting led to a loss of natural oyster reefs, but in recent years, it has grown rapidly as a form of aquaculture in the region. 

Three state agencies have their hands in this oyster business. 

The state Department of Environmental Services is in charge of water classification and determines where these aquaculture operations can go based on water quality. In recent years, with improvements to wastewater treatment, new potential aquaculture areas have opened up. Fish and Game is in charge of licensing and enforcement of permits for oyster farming and Health and Human Services is involved in testing the product for health safety.

Historically little oyster seedlings have grown from the bottom of tidal areas.

Robert Atwood, a biologist for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said oyster farming has been growing in the state in recent years and while the state has a limited size coastline, it does have several estuaries which are good for such farming.

Currently, there are 95 acres of water under cultivation for oyster farming mostly in Little Bay and Hampton and Seabrook areas.

In 2013 there were only a few farmers who reported making $56,654 in sales while in 2023 state data shows it grew to a $653,558 business with 830,933 oysters sold.

When an application from a prospective farmer comes in, the department uses SCUBA to assess the underwater area and tries to identify potential impacts to species of concern, particularly eelgrass which is good for fish habitat and is in need of being protected.

Atwood said public hearings are a time for the department to get a better picture of the impact of such a plan “so we can make an informed decision” to recommend to the director.

The Coastal Conservation Association, whose primary mission is protection of a healthy marine environment and coastal access has drafted a letter of opposition to the “floating condo” proposal but said it would support approval of a request for a permit if it were not floating.

“We strongly support oyster farming,” because of the ecological benefits oysters play in cleaning the water, wrote Zak Robinson, president of the recreational fishermen’s association, but opposed the floating ‘condos’ request “since it would interfere with access to a significantly utilized fishing area.”

He said that a barrier of 450 feet would impact those who drift fish for striped bass using boats that drift along.

Ross wrote that to approve the plan would “confiscate” and “damage” large portions of the estuary for sole commercial benefit and exclusive use.

They convert scenic public property into eyesores, he said, and “stink.” 

He noted, the floating oyster farming practice is contrary to the 1945 Great Bay Development Plan and the legislative intent behind it.

The public has until May 7 at the close of business to comment on the proposal before the Executive Director collects all the data and makes a decision on the application. Comments may be sent to comments@wildlife.nh.gov.

They can also write to New Hampshire Fish and Game Director Scott Mason, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301 or fax to 603-271-5829.

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