Last April BHA’s Rhode Island team participated in a preliminary determination hearing before the Jamestown Harbor Commission related to two CRMC aquaculture applications, 2023-02-080 and 2023-02-078, each of which sought to obtain leases to operate ~10-acre kelp farms near Dutch Island in Narragansett Bay. BHA provided written testimony and spoke during the hearing, voicing concerns that proposed operations near Dutch Island could negatively impact the abundance of native shellfish and wintering sea ducks, and would create conflicts with both recreational hunters and hunting guides that have utilized the area for years.
Following the preliminary determination hearing, one of the applicants chose to re-locate their proposal to a site further away from the ecologically important habitat that BHA was concerned with. Subsequently, they were granted a permit to grow kelp last October with no objections.
The second applicant, Spencer Bode of Wickford Seafood Co., decided to only make minor modifications before submitting an application for Category B Assent that largely resembled the application BHA was concerned with. Disappointingly, the full application neither includes alterations sufficient to address the concerns that were raised last April, nor offers any rationale to alleviate those concerns or provide the Council with information to make an informed decision. In fact, contrary to requirements in CRMC’s Red Book that require applicants to demonstrate that the proposed activities will not negatively impact the abundance and diversity of plant and animal life or result in conflicts with current users, no rationale or analysis is actually provided aside from what Mr. Bode ‘anticipated’ the effects of the proposed activities to be, and several of the concerns that BHA raised are not even acknowledged in the application for the Council to consider.
During the 30-day public notice period required by CRMC’s aquaculture permitting process BHA’s Rhode Island team issued a formal objection to the application, and requested a public hearing before the Council.
Assuming our objection is accepted, the application will eventually be scrutinized by the full Council in view of the public at a future date, where BHA will have the opportunity to raise our concerns before a decision is made. Had no objection been submitted the application would likely have only been subject to an internal administrative review (which is basically inaccessible to the public) pursuant to 650-RICR-20-00-1 1.1.6 D.5. Applications that end up going before the Council because of objections can sometimes take several years before a decision is made.
Advocating for public access & wildlife habitat in CRMC’s aquaculture permitting process is a top priority for the Rhode Island BHA team in 2024, and we will continue to monitor and weigh in on aquaculture applications that could negatively impact public access & wildlife habitat.