Shellfish commission extends softshell season
The Shellfish Commission voted to extend the season for certain types of shellfishing by one month at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, March 11. Traditionally, the season for taking oysters and scallops starts on Nov. 1, while the season for soft shell clamming begins Dec. 1. The season for all three types of shellfish ends on March 31.
Commissioner Hermann “Bo” Gempp suggested simplifying the scheduled closures by grouping all three types of shellfish into one category. He also wanted to simplify the language so that the commission would not have to vote on the issue every year. He proposed starting the season on “the first of December” and closing it on the “last day of April.” Deleting the year from the language would make an annual decision, and therefore vote, unnecessary.
When asked by fellow commissioners why he wanted to extend the season into April, Gempp responded that it would: “Give people more of a chance and it’s before spawning begins.”
Chair Lois Bendokas expressed concern that the changes should be run by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), but also asked whether soft shell fishing had been closed in April to protect the stock.
Gempp responded that: “People digging for soft shell clams in the past couple of weeks have been doing great.” He also noted that there is: “not a mass of people in those 30 days” in April.
Councilor Jon Grant felt that extending the season would be fine as long as it didn’t involve people clamming in the seed beds. He, as well as others, also felt that the change should not be made until there was adequate signage.
In the end, the Commission approved a motion to open the pond for the taking of softshell clams, oysters and scallops from Dec. 1 to April 30, subject to approval by the DEM.
When asked about setting dates for other closures, Gempp noted that: “These are the only ones we have conservation measures on.”
Regarding the one month delay at the start of the season for oysters and scallops, Bendokas told The Block Island Times, when reached after the meeting, that oysters and scallops are still spawning in November and that the change actually brings them closer in compliance with DEM regulations.
Regarding other changes, Gempp proposed adding a $25 fine for not covering “dig holes.” These are the holes left in the sand after digging for soft shell clams. Grant felt that people tended to think that the tide would come in and fill the holes for them, but noted that in the meantime, the gulls come in and grab the clams.
While Gempp felt that if a couple of people were to be fined, then word would quickly spread among other clammers, the commission decided to instead address the issue through signage, and Bendokas asked Grant to craft the desired wording for the signs.
Grant reported on his progress on getting prices for (hard shell) seed clams from potential suppliers. To date, two of the three suppliers still had not gotten back to him. The one who had gotten back to him was G&B Shellfish, the supplier they had used last year. The prices would remain the same, he said.
While he expressed a desire to have two suppliers “in the loop” he also acknowledged that that probably wouldn’t happen this year, and therefore the commission should put their order in as soon as possible if they wanted to do the reseeding in the spring.
Last year the commission reseeded 29,000 clams and the commission discussed whether they could afford to increase that number to 35,000. Grant told the commission that the supplier didn’t mention any problems with the availability of those quantities, however others wanted to be sure that the supplier was aware that all the clams had to come from one area as they would need to “go to pathology,” a process which costs between $600 and $800. If the clams were to come from two areas, there would be two sets of pathology testing. The testing is done at Roger Williams University.
After a quick review of the commission’s remaining budget, they crafted a motion to authorize Grant to order up to 35,000 clams from one area.
As far as the order for soft-shell clams, Grant reported that the order had been placed.
These discussions led to a more philosophical one after Gempp noted that, as a Shellfish Commission, the group “Should be on a long range plan where we become self-sustaining instead of bringing in the candy store all the time.”
Grant noted that they didn’t really know what the overall population of clams in the pond was but that they could do a survey with either dredges or diving to get a better idea of how self sustaining the pond might actually be.
“You don’t see anyone else in the country transplanting for tourists,” said Gempp.
However commissioner Pete Tweedy thought that providing clamming for tourists was perhaps their mission.
Grant expressed that: “It’s a good goal but…may not be attainable.”