NORTH KINGSTOWN—A new mussel farm may be coming to the west shore of Jamestown. As interest across the state in the shellfishing industry grows across the state, Adam Silkes of American Mussel Harvesters in North Kingstown has submitted an application to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to develop a 2,400 square foot site, cultivating blue mussels, in the waters just south of the Jamestown Bridge.
Silkes, whose father Bill is the founder of the successful Rhode Island shellfishing business American Mussel Harvesters based in Quonset, has traveled to the West Coast and utilized his education in aquaculture from the University of Rhode Island. He now feels that the time is right to go out on his own and help grow Rhode Island’s burgeoning shellfish industry.
“I grew up in the industry,” said Silkes. “I was born and raised in South Kingstown and went to URI for fisheries and aquaculture and during my senior year I studied at the University of Washington in Seattle. I ended up fishing in Alaska, Washington State and California, got homesick in my mid-20s and moved home.”
“Right now, I am working on my dad’s oyster farm, Salt Water Farms, and I see a huge opportunity [with the new farm],” he added. “His company is only 10 years old. and I hope to grow mussels in a similar fashion.”
Silkes has not received the lease yet and is still in the early stages of permitting. The proposed site, which has been examined by CRMC and Save The Bay, will be composed of a continuous system of 12 lines and consist of approximately 600 feet per line of grow-out space. North and South anchors for each line will be either 4,000 pound concrete blocks or screw anchors, and a 50 to 100-foot length poly-steel rope will tie the mainline into the mussel grow lines.
Silkes and his family, as proprietors of a American Mussel Harvesters, feel that the market is ripe locally to expand the shellfishing industry in Narragansett Bay and the shores off Rhode Island. He estimates that the new farm site will produce 198,000 pounds of mussels annually.
“More than 85 percent of the U.S. markets for premium live farmed mussels are presently served by imports from Canadian suppliers,” said Silkes in his CRMC application. “The demand for blue mussel within the U.S. is growing and Rhode Island is ideally situated within close proximity to many major markets.”
Although his proposed farm is small in comparison, Silkes has internalized knowledge gained from shellfishermen which he has gained during trips to Prince Edward Island (PEI) in Canada and New Zealand with his family. PEI mussel farmers, for example, harvest 35 million pounds of shellfish yearly among 11,000 leased acres and 120 farmers and, as of 2004, produced $107 million in sales.
In New Zealand, mussel farms are even more successful, harvesting approximately 213.4 million pounds worth $215 million annually.
“Everyone does things a little different, but the New Zealanders are the most dialed in, and I am trying to emulate how they do [mussel farming] on a smaller scale on the Bay,” said Silkes. “They are incredibly mechanized and highly efficient. All of their boats are purpose-built and all the machinery is built so there is minimal back-breaking labor.”
“There is no way I will get to the scale that New Zealand is at with this spot, but at least it is a start,” he continued. “[The farm] will be a good stepping stone for myself to learn how to grow mussels efficiently in hopes of eventually attaining more growing space for this purpose.”
Silkes further noted that, as part of the application process, he has consulted with CRMC and Save The Bay about their concerns regarding the placement and dimensions of his mussel farm site in the West Passage. From CRMC’s perspective, Silkes had to alter the overall dimensions of the mussel farm site in order to not interfere with other fishermen, including lobstermen, in the area.
“Save The Bay’s concern was they had just done eelgrass aerial surveys for the first time in five to 10 years,” said Silkes. “I addressed their concerns [about eelgrass] by moving the eastern boundary of my original application a farther 50 feet west to avoid eelgrass beds growing there.”
According to Silkes, the farm will be tended by a lobster-style boat and all the mussels will be sold under his family business, American Mussel Harvesters. Silkes is hopeful that his new site will lead to a better understanding and profitability for shellfishing in Rhode Island.
“I have the hands on training, and hopefully aquaculture is [more] successful for me,” said Silkes.