NEWS

High yields raise concerns over area opened to shellfishermen

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 8/11/21

By JOHN HOWELL The Promised Land for commercial fishermen is about 1,900 acres between Conimicut and Bullock's points. The area was opened to quahogging for a first time in 75 years on May 26. It's highly productive, enabling most fully licensed

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NEWS

High yields raise concerns over area opened to shellfishermen

Posted

The Promised Land for commercial fishermen is about 1,900 acres between Conimicut and Bullock’s points. The area was opened to quahogging for a first time in 75 years on May 26.

It’s highly productive, enabling most fully licensed shellfishermen to harvest a daily limit of six bushels between opening at 8 a.m. and closing three hours later. But this summer has not been kind. The Promised Land was to have been open Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a total of 27 days by the Friday before Labor Day.

Back-to-back storms delivering 3 inches of rain forced the closure of sections of Narragansett Bay, including this section of the Providence River, to shellfishing for most of July. Shellfishermen were only able to work the area for two of the slated 13 days. (The area is closed when there is more than a half inch of rain.) The Department of Environmental Management has extended the schedule to Sept. 3.

The program has been greeted enthusiastically by some shellfishermen, while others fear the abundance of product will soften prices, or worse, impair what some consider a mother source to bay quahogs.

Asked for comment, Conor McManus, chief of DEM Marine Fisheries said in an email “it’s too soon to tell for sure how the population has responded.” He said quahoggers have mixed feelings about harvesting the area, with some favoring it and other voicing concerns about the market and sustaining the stock.

He said Wednesday that the program would be evaluated before May 2022.

“It’s a massive learning experience for us,” he said.

Michael McGivney, president of the RI Shellfishermen’s Association, sees both sides of the issue. From a personal perspective, he would prefer to “save” some of the 27 days set aside for the program for the weeks before Christmas when demand is high and consequently prices would be higher, too.

McGiveny is “very happy” with the opening so far.

“It’s an amazing resource,” he said of the area. DEM estimates 120 to 150 turn out on a given day.

McGiveny said he is especially encouraged by the young people he’s seen, as that bodes well for the future of the industry. He said many smaller quahogs, which fetch higher prices and indicate a rejuvenated stock, are being harvested.

Interviewed Wednesday morning from his boat off Conimicut, Wayne Rice, 73, said he was opposed to opening the Providence River management area, but the association voted for it and now that it is open on a limited basis he is quahogging. Rice, who is out of Wickford, said he has quahogged most of his life and has found once productive areas such as south of Warwick Neck have been depleted. As for the Providence River area, he’s found some sections highly productive while other areas are less so.

Warwick quahogger Jody King, chair of the Warwick Harbor Commission, said Wednesday was productive although with a lack of wind conditions was not as good as they were last Friday.

“I’m making a paycheck,” he said.

King said the influx of product has already resulted in a drop in prices. He said dealers paying 31 cents per piece for little necks are now paying 25 cents. Mid-sized quahogs called “tops” have dropped by a penny to 15 cents. The larger clams – chowders – he said are going for 25 cents per pound.

King said opening the area has brought out a lot of “part timers” who are flooding the market with product. Like McGiveny, he feels the opening should be timed to market demand. He thinks an opening in advance to Christmas makes sense.

Judging from the concentration of boats on Wednesday, the stretch off Shawomet Avenue in Conimicut, east of what is left of Greene Island south off Gaspee Point, south of the channel to Bullock’s Cove in East Providence and west of Nayatt Point off Barrington are high yield areas.

Rice said opening the area has been a boost for young quahoggers who are supporting families.

Yet, he shares the concerns of other quahoggers that the high yields produced from the area will deflate prices and could impact an area that “seeds” the bay.

The dates open to harvest from 8 to 11 a.m., notwithstanding closures due to water quality impairment, are Aug. 6, 9, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20, 23, 25, 27 and 30, and Sept. 1 and 3.

“Once these dates pass (open or close), the area is then closed,” McManus said. There is no plan to make up for days lost to closure beyond Sep. 3

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