Written by Jen Finn
CHATHAM — The first offshore wind farm in U.S. history may soon have company: If a proposed 30-acre mussel farm is permitted this fall, in Nantucket Sound adjacent to the Cape Wind lease area on Horseshoe Shoal, it will become the first offshore aquaculture project in federal waters.
Proponents say it is an idea whose time is long overdue, because the U.S. imports more than 90 percent of the mussels Americans consume and the country's own wild mussel supply suffers large fluctuations because of predation, weather and unfavorable spawning conditions.
"When I look at the market and the possibilities of farming, I'm thinking in the tens to hundreds of million pounds," said Bill Silkes, the president of American Mussel Harvesters of Quonset, R.I., with more than 25 years in the mussel business. He employs more than 40 people harvesting, processing and shipping mussels, oysters and clams.
Aquaculture farms off Canada's Prince Edward Island alone export 35 million pounds of blue mussels to the U.S. annually, worth about $20 million.
The U.S. imported $150 million in mussel products in the first seven months of 2012, with more than 86 percent coming from Canada and New Zealand, according to SeaFood Business Trade Tracker.
U.S. mussel farming advocates hope they can begin making inroads into that market by developing offshore sites.
"The opportunities are phenomenal," Silkes said.
So, what's holding them back? Much as wind farms are, offshore aquaculture is plagued by the lack of a clear permitting path that allows leasing the areas where such farms would be set up. In Massachusetts, an inshore area crowded with competing uses and a lot of bureaucratic red tape pushed these farmers into federal waters, where they tend to deal with only one agency right now: the Army Corps of Engineers.
"The frustration is the leasing part of it," Silkes said. "It's a huge challenge."
Read the full story at the Cape Cod Times>>
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