In April of 2020, two Little Compton brothers applied for a lease to establish a commercial oyster growing operation in the tidal waters adjacent to Sapowet Marsh Wildlife Management Area in Tiverton, Rhode Island. The state agency that manages aquaculture, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, proceeded to review and work towards approval of the application with little scrutiny from the public. In June, approval of the lease appeared imminent, but was delayed because the CRMC granted a continuance of the hearing to objectors.
Upon reviewing the application and associated documents, it is clear that impacts to hunters’ use of the area was not acknowledged, considered or addressed at any point despite the lease’s proposed location being less than 500 feet from the WMA’s boundary and the inlet to the marsh. This is shocking not only because Sapowet Marsh WMA and the adjacent waters have been used by hunters for decades, but also because over $10,000 was granted in 2015 to improve Sapowet Marsh WMA through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, commonly referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act. Pittman-Robertson funds are raised by taxing the purchase of firearms, ammunition and hunting equipment, and are apportioned to states to manage and enhance wild birds, mammals and their habitat.
New England BHA opposed the application for its failure to address impact to hunting opportunity in a letter to Coastal Resources Management Council Executive Director Jeff Willis, Aquaculture Coordinator Ben Goetsch and Department of Environmental Management Deputy Director, Bureau of Natural Resources Jason McNamee.
“When applying for aquaculture leases one of the requirements of applicants is to demonstrate that the alteration will not unreasonably interfere with, impair or significantly impact public access to, or use of, tidal waters and/or the shore.” said New England Chapter Board Chair Michael Woods of Saunderstown, Rhode Island. “Until negative impacts to its use for hunting – which is a traditional and historic use of Sapowet Marsh and the adjacent waters – are considered and addressed we urge the Coastal Resources Management Council, the Division of Fish & Wildlife and the other parties involved in the aquaculture lease consideration process to reject the proposal before them. It is regrettable, given the considerable investment made in the area using money taken from the hunting and shooting communities, that the concerns raised with regard to disruption of hunting activities in the area of the proposal are not addressed or even acknowledged or considered in the application.”
You can speak up to ensure hunting access and opportunity on Sapowet WMA is considered in the aquaculture leasing process by emailing the Rhode Island decision-makers listed below with the application number “CRMC File No. 2020-04-037” in the subject line.
- Ben Goetsch – Aquaculture Coordinator, RI CRMC - [email protected]
- Jeff Willis – Executive Director – RI CRMC - [email protected]
- CRMC Staff - [email protected]
- Jason McNamee – Deputy Director, Bureau of Natural Resources, RI DEM - [email protected]
- Philip Edwards – Chief, Division of Fish & Widllife, RI DEM - [email protected]