Oyster stands could be coming soon to Southold

As of now in Southold Town, those who raise shellfish on underwater properties could set up a stand to sell their clams or oysters — they would just have to do so out on the water, where they grow them.

And they better hope their customers have masks and flippers handy.

Town officials are looking to change that by changing town code, a move that would put these aquaculturists on the same footing as traditional farmers when it comes to being able to set up farm stands.

“It absolutely makes sense for oyster farmers to be able to set up a farm stand somewhere, whether it’s in conjunction with an existing farm stand” or their own properties, said Rosalie Rung, an aquacultarist who owns Little Creek Oyster Farm in Greenport along with her husband, Ian. “Obviously, you can’t set up a farm stand on water. With aquaculture, there are clearly certain [health] standards that have to be met, but everybody follows them.

“Ideally, water farmers have the same opportunities as land farmers.”

Town officials seem to agree, and on Thursday its code committee members and some stakeholders met in the Town Hall Annex to discuss possible code changes that would allow aquaculturists to sell their product from stands set up in residential areas, typically their own homes.

“There’s nothing stopping them from selling it wholesale, of course, or teaming up with a farmers’ market or somebody else’s farm stand,” Heather Lanza, the town’s planning director, said in an interview after the meeting. “It’s just that if they wanted to sell from their farms, their farms are under water, so they can’t.”

“We’re trying to create an option that would eliminate a need for people to put on scuba equipment,” Long Island Farm Bureau president Karen Rivara said at the meeting. “We want to move the ball forward so people have opportunities.”

Ms. Rivara, an aquaculturist herself, is the owner of the Aeros Cultured Oyster Company in Southold.

Chris Baiz, owner of The Old Field Vineyards in Southold and head of the town’s agricultural advisory committee, said there are about 20 aquaculturists in town, and about five would benefit from a code change.

“For the 20 or so growers in town, to give them a land base, a home base … so if somebody wanted to come in and buy a couple of dozen oysters for Friday night they could do it, without violating zoning/code,” he said.

Even so, town officials such as Ms. Lanza and the town’s chief building inspector, Michael Verity, reminded that any code changes would have to be done carefully to prevent unintended consequences.

“It’s a great idea, but the net is too broad right now,” Mr. Verity said of an initial code amendment proposal. “No pun intended.”

After the code committee agrees on a proposal, it would then go to the Town Board for a vote.

“I know there’s no mechanism, currently, and I don’t think that anybody’s against it,” said Ms. Rung. “It’s just a rule that doesn’t exist yet.”