The Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group has gained more autonomy for the use of the historic Hughes hatchery in Oak Bluffs after the state legislature passed a bill allowing the nonprofit to secure a long-term lease at the facility.

Owned by the state Department of Marine Fisheries, the former state lobster hatchery has been occupied by the shellfish group for the past decade, where it is used as an adjunct to the shellfish group’s two other hatcheries. But until now the lease has been short term with shared state responsibility, making larger scale improvements or investments in the property infeasible.

The new legislation passed on Jan. 6 hands the shellfish group a 15-year lease, allowing more latitude. The bill was sponsored by Cape and Islands Rep. Dylan Fernandes, and awaits signature from Gov. Charlie Baker to become law.

Ms. Green-Beach: “We can now plan into the future.” — Mark Alan Lovewell

Speaking to the Gazette by phone Tuesday, shellfish group executive director Emma Green-Beach expressed enthusiasm about the bill’s passage.

“We’re really excited about it, to say the least,” Ms. Green-Beach said. “What it really means for us is that we can now plan into the future. We can now take care of this property, and this big building, better.”

Named after its longtime steward and expert on lobsters John Hughes, the facility dates to the 1940s and once served as a center for international research on lobster hatching and marine biology. After funding for lobster research slowed in the 1990s, the pumps went dry for approximately a decade before the shellfish group moved in.

The group, a four-employee Island nonprofit dedicated to seeding and restoring shellfish resources around the Island, has used the former lobster hatchery since 2011 for research and to propagate a wide range of shellfish seed for recreational and commercial harvest, including quahaugs. The hatchery is one of three facilities used by the group, including the original solar facility on the Vineyard Haven side of the Lagoon and a facility near the Chappaquiddick point at the former Lamb property, now owned by the land bank. The Hughes Hatchery and its four greenhouse larval tanks allowed the group to double its seed capacity.

While the state will continue to own the Oak Bluffs facility, the commonwealth’s presence and interest has declined in the past decades, allowing the local shellfish group to gain greater control. Ms. Green-Beach said the recent legislation represents a natural progression.

“There’s not a strong state presence here,” Ms. Green-Beach said. “All the shellfish we grow are for the Islands and Island fishermen, so it’s hard for the DMF to justify paying for things over here when our shellfish are not shipped across the commonwealth.”

But there is a flip side to the transition: the shellfish group will now be responsible for expenses at the facility that were previously covered or shared by the state, including electric and heating bills. And although the change in lease will allow the group to undertake needed improvements, like a new roof on the building, it puts a heavier financial burden on its shoulders.

“We are now responsible for this big building in its entirety,” Ms. Green-Beach said. “And it’s a big challenge for us, because it needs a lot of maintenance.”

Ms. Green-Beach said the shellfish group had a few “big dreams” for the spacious facility that include more shellfish propagation, educational tours and eelgrass research. The building is more accessible than the other facilities, and also provides different marine and water conditions than other locations, giving shellfish seed a better chance for survival.

“The shellfish group cannot grow in the ways that our estuaries and our community needs us to without this property, so it’s essential, it’s great,” Ms. Green-Beach said. “But it means we have a lot of work to do.”