NEWS

Can you dig it?

As RI celebrates Quahog Week, new areas of Narragansett Bay set to open for shellfishing

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 5/20/21

By JOHN HOWELL Gov. Dan McKee did some manual labor Friday afternoon. So did Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, Sen. Michael MCaffrey, Sen. Kendra Anderson and Mayor Frank Picozzi. Picozzi relished it. "You know I like to work outside," the mayor said after his

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NEWS

Can you dig it?

As RI celebrates Quahog Week, new areas of Narragansett Bay set to open for shellfishing

Posted

Gov. Dan McKee did some manual labor Friday afternoon. So did Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, Sen. Michael MCaffrey, Sen. Kendra Anderson and Mayor Frank Picozzi.

Picozzi relished it.

“You know I like to work outside,” the mayor said after his first experience quahogging.

Under the direction of Dave Ghigliotti of the Rhode Island Shellfishermen’s Association, the mayor took turns working a bull rake with Anderson and Matos off the entrance to East Greenwich Harbor and Chepiwanoxet. After five minutes, he came up with lots of seaweed, a couple of quahogs and some crabs. Another contingent that included the governor and DEM Director Janel Coit, aboard Black Gold with Jody King at the helm, worked nearby. King gave top quahogging honors to Rep. Joseph McNamara, who he said obviously knew what he was doing.

The outing, made up of a fleet including a DEM patrol boat and Warwick Police boat, capped a ceremony at the Warwick Dock in Apponaug Cove to commemorate the fifth annual Rhode Island Quahog Week. McKee and Picozzi signed proclamations after a toast where those gathered raised freshly shucked quahogs on the half shell in praise of the shellfish that provides hundreds of jobs and plays a vital part of the local economy.

The occasion also provided Coit with the stage to announce that starting at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, May 26, DEM will open 1,900 acres in the Providence River to shellfishing for the first time in at least 75 years. Encompassing an area extending between Conimicut and Nayatt Points north to a line between Bullocks and Gaspee Points, the area has been closed all these years because of a high level of pollutants. With the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, the Narragansett Bay Commission and municipal waste water treatment plans have reduced pollutants from storm water runoff and the dumping of sewage in periods of heavy rain to a level where shellfish harvested are safe for consumption.

“Narragansett Bay is cleaner and healthier than ever,” Coit said.

Michael McGiveney, president of the RI Shellfishermen’s Association termed the additional area, “a shot in the arm to get everybody back to work.”

Demand for shellfish dropped off dramatically during the pandemic shutdown with the closure of restaurants. McGiveney remarked on efforts to bring younger people into the industry, including internship programs and licenses for those under 22 years old. He said shellfishermen have been waiting for some time for the lower portion of the Providence River to open for the harvesting of quahogs. The area is being opened on a provisional basis and is subject to closure depending on rain levels. It would be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 to 11 a.m. for a total of 28 days this summer.

Quahogs are the most economically important fishery resource harvested from Narragansett Bay. Typically, more than 20 million quahogs with an off-the-boat value exceeding $5 million are harvested from the bay on an average annual basis. Last year, landings dipped by about 35 percent due to the pandemic. Landings are expected to bounce back this year, aided by the opening of the new shellfishing waters in the lower Providence River. Among all of Rhode Island’s inshore and offshore marine fisheries, quahogs are the fifth most valuable, following squid, scallops, lobster, and summer flounder (based on 2019 ex-vessel values).

Over 500 licensed commercial fishermen and women are engaged in the Rhode Island quahog fishery, with about half engaged year-round. More young people are entering the fishery, thanks in part to the availability of student shellfish licenses, which support good summer job opportunities, and to the apprenticeship program administered by the RI Shellfishermen's Association.

The highlight of Quahog Week involves the many opportunities to access and savor fresh Rhode Island quahogs. Participating restaurants will feature quahog-inspired specials on their menus, and participating markets will offer deals for those who enjoy cooking their own clam dishes at home. With Quahog Week now in its fifth year, excitement is building, particularly as the number of participating restaurants and markets continues to grow.

To date, 24 restaurants and seven markets are participating in Quahog Week and will offer featured items throughout the week. Consumers should visit seafoodri.com for a full list of participating restaurants and markets and the specials they are offering. Additional restaurants and markets interested in participating are encouraged to sign up at seafoodri.com.

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