Massachusetts shellfish farm

A man sorts through freshly farmed oysters on Cape Cod, Mass.

(The Center Square) – One Native American group in Massachusetts will be receiving an influx of federal dollars, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey said.

The veteran Democratic Senator from Massachusetts announced that aquacultural efforts by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will receive $1.1 million through the Economic Development Administration Grant to drive economic growth within the tribe.

The funds, according to the release, are derived from the American Rescue Plan Act’s Indigenous Communities program.

“This was a big grant the Economic Development Administration granted us to basically bring this back to life,” Carlton Hendricks, vice chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, told The Center Square.

Hendricks said a tribal-driven economic development plan is what he envisioned when he took office.

Keeping First Light Shellfish Farm, a name derived from the tribe’s name meaning “People of the First Light,” afloat has been a challenge, especially through the pandemic when at one point it had no workers, said Hendricks.

“[The grant] initially right-off-the-bat employed five tribal members – three full-time, two part-time,” he said. “It helps us with acquiring resources to go and get seeds – both oyster and quahog,” he said.

Previously, the farm only grew oysters. This is the first year it is attempting the lower-maintenance quahogs, Hendricks said.

The farm occupies 12 acres of bay water and has been under the control of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe for more than four decades. It serves as both a food source, giving tribal members an area to fish, and an economic endeavor to produce revenue, he said.

“It has a great impact on the tribal economy and being able to get tribal members to work is the big thing,” Hendricks said.

Besides the economic benefit, First Light is also a boon to the local environment as well. Known as filter fish, oysters help improve the water quality of the Popponesset Bay by reducing nitrogen composites.

“Our bays and our water quality here are really not good, and going downhill, and getting worse, so this is also big for improving the water around town – so the local municipalities are very ecstatic that we are granted this also,” Hendricks said.

Part of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s heritage is working the water and Hendricks is pleased it can continue this stewardship tradition.

The tribe has plans to expand its shellfish operation, adding its own hazard analysis critical control point facility, which will allow it to buy and sell wholesale shellfish on its lands.