NEWS

Safe Harbor says shellfishermen welcome at marinas

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 5/6/21

By JOHN HOWELL The world's largest owner of marinas, which has acquired about 50 percent of the more than 3,000 slips in Warwick, is always looking for the right opportunity, said Tim Moll, regional vice president of Safe Harbor. But while the company

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NEWS

Safe Harbor says shellfishermen welcome at marinas

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The world’s largest owner of marinas, which has acquired about 50 percent of the more than 3,000 slips in Warwick, is always looking for the right opportunity, said Tim Moll, regional vice president of Safe Harbor.

But while the company has plans for further expansion, Moll said in an interview Friday Safe Harbor has not overlooked that in addition to being a haven for leisure boaters, its marinas are home to those who make their living on the water.

The acquisition of Warwick marinas – the most recent being Wharf Marina that is now part of Safe Harbor Greenwich Bay, once C-Lark and Brewer’s – has some local quahoggers fearful of increased dockage charges. Word on the waterfront is that Safe Harbor is seeking to maximize revenues with pleasure boaters and larger boats.

Moll dispelled that idea.

He said no two marinas are the same, offering different configuration of docks and slips with differing depths that affect what size boat they can accommodate.

“They all have their own flavor,” he said of the yards.

What Safe Harbor offers that independent marinas can’t is a panoply of services ranging from insurance to fuel discounts, depending on the terms of contracts. Many of the marinas have swimming pools and restaurants. Safe Harbor members have access to Safe Harbor marinas wherever they are, thereby enabling them to plan trips or find a safe harbor as the name implies when faced with bad weather or a breakdown. Moll points out that mechanical service records can be accessed from any marina – so for example, if there is an engine failure, a mechanic knows what prior work has been done.

Moll said maintenance on many of the marinas Safe Harbor acquires has been deferred, requiring substantial investment in new bulkheads, pilings and docks that he said have a life of 25 to 30 years. The pilings and docks have been replaced at what was formerly Wharf Marina and is now part of Safe Harbor Greenwich Bay. Work at Greenwich Bay includes the upgrading of the electrical service. Moll is looking to remove utility poles serving the marina and bury the service.

Along with the improvements have come higher prices. At the former Wharf, the per-foot charge for summer dockage went from $87 to $118 and in some cases higher depending on location and size of slip. This has prompted some people to leave. However, with the pandemic, there is increased interest in boating, making it difficult to not only find a boat for sale but also a place to keep it.

Marinas booked tight this summer

An informal survey of Warwick Cove marinas done by the Beacon for an April 15 story on Safe Harbor found local marinas booked tight for the summer. It also found increased docking prices that some boaters attribute to a Safe Harbor effect. Concerns were voiced that once Safe Harbor takes over, the local marina loses its personality and culture as new rules and procedures are put in place.

Moll points out many personnel stay and boaters are getting improved facilities.

Some quahoggers aren’t convinced it is for the best. They fear being pushed out to make room for pleasure boaters who can afford to pay higher prices.

Moll said Safe Harbor Greenwich Bay is home to several quahoggers.

As those boats tend to be smaller with shallow drafts, they are generally in slips close to bulkheads that are not suitable for larger pleasure craft. Moll said rates for quahoggers are discounted as much as 50 percent. He said shellfishermen are welcome members of the Safe Harbor community and that their presence during the winter months is helpful in breaking ice.

“That marina has been wonderful for us,” Mike McGiveney said of Second Point Marina, which is now part of Safe Harbor Greenwich Bay. President of the Rhode Island Shellfishermen’s Association, McGiveney said the association, in cooperation with Roger Williams University and DEM, has operated an upweller at the marina since 2014. He described the upweller as a gigantic jacuzzi that pumps water from the bottom through screened pails used as nurseries for clams and oysters. When the shellfish reach a certain size, they are disbursed in Greenwich Bay to continue growing and to be harvested.

McGiveney has dealt with the issue of commercial fishermen being forced out with the development of East Greenwich marinas. He said a SAMP, or special area management plan, was worked out and implemented with DEM that preserves a percentage of commercial dock space. He suggests a similar plan could be developed for Warwick coves.

“This isn’t recreation for us,” he said, “it’s our living.”

Opening a new area to quahoggers

McGiveney estimated there are 1,200 to 1,500 licensed shellfishermen in the state. He said COVID has had an impact on the industry as demand for shellfish dropped with restaurants being closed. He is hopeful of seeing the “guys get back on the water,” as the economy reopens and with the possible opening of the area north of Conimicut Point extending to Bullock’s Point to shellfishing for a first time in 70 years. The Marine Fishery Council voted Monday in favor of the plan to give shellfishermen access to the area Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 to 11 a.m. with a harvest limit of six bushels. The area would be open for a total of 27 days this summer. The plan requires the approval of DEM director Janet Coit.

“It would give the industry a real shot in the arm … it’s hopefully a game changer,” McGiveney said.

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