Oyster beds (Flickr)

RI - Where can oyster farms be located in RI? Proposed restrictions reopen debate in Tiverton

The Bowen brothers of Little Compton have spent the past 3 years seeking permission for an oyster farm in a sheltered Tiverton cove, which the bill seeks to prevent.

Oyster farm owners say the proposed legislation would effectively amount to a moratorium. Lawmakers from South County expressed hesitations, noting the environmental and economic benefits of oyster farms.

A bill before the General Assembly aims to end the battle over a proposed oyster farm in Tiverton by effectively rendering Sapowet Cove off-limits for new aquaculture leases.

Introduced by Rep. John Edwards, D-Tiverton, H 5037 would create a two-year pilot program in which any new oyster farms on the Sakonnet River would need to be least 1,000 feet from shore. It would not affect oyster farms already in operation.

It would, however, affect John and Patrick Bowen, who hope to establish an oyster farm in sheltered Sapowet Cove and have faced massive resistance from neighbors.

"If we could somehow make just this area go away, I’d have no problem with that," Edwards told the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. He said he'd be open to rethinking the wording of the bill to achieve that same goal — for instance, by restricting new oyster farms north of Fogland Point.

Oyster wars: Why RI homeowners are fighting to keep shellfish farms out of their backyards

"It’s not a resident of our town. ... It’s not like it’s a Tivertonian coming into get licensed," Edwards said of the Bowen brothers, who are fourth-generation residents of Little Compton. "This is people from out of town. And they do not seem to have the same respect for the area."

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