The Block Island Times
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Shellfish Commission plans clam seeding for GSP

And what is that slimy, scummy stuff, anyway?
By Renée Meyer | Feb 04, 2014

Before relinquishing his role of Chair of the Shellfish Commission, Hermann “Bo” Gempp opened the Jan. 28 meeting with a moment of silence for the late Arthur Rose, who died at 92 in January. Slightly later in the meeting, after approving the minutes of the previous meeting and setting their 2014 meeting schedule, the commission turned to electing its officers. Gempp announced that he was stepping down as Chair. When asked why, he replied that he was “retiring,” and perhaps inspired by his recent winning of both the chili contest and the “Souper Bowl,” said he was going to write a cookbook.

The commission then elected Lois Bendokas as the new Chair and Pete Tweedy as the Vice Chair.

Bendokas immediately took the helm to run the rest of the meeting. However, fairly quickly on, she had to recuse herself from the discussion as it related to the purchase last summer of a New England Airlines (NEA) commuter card. The town finance department had forwarded an inquiry to the commission about the purchase because it appeared that there were still four trips left on a previously purchased card and that none of the tickets in the new booklet had been used. The tickets had been purchased in order to pay the travel costs of scientists and officials from the Department of Environmental Management and Coastal Resources Management Council so they could attend the commission’s meetings when invited.

Those meetings with state officials however had fallen through, although the commission expressed hope that they would eventually happen and didn’t quite understand why the tickets were even an issue.

Speaking as an audience member and representative of New England Airlines, Bendokas said that the airline would be willing to fully refund the cost of the unused ticket book, which cost $839. The commissioners didn’t quite see this as necessary, but they agreed to put the matter to bed and voted to have NEA refund the cost of the ticket book.

With all the house-keeping tasks accomplished, the commission then turned to the more pressing issues at hand: their plans for reseeding the Great Salt Pond this spring. They reflected on what had happened the previous year with the reseeding of the soft shell clam beds in late June. While transplants arriving in June were apt to be larger, there was concern about the water becoming too warm for them to successfully adapt to their new environment. Last year, 40,000 soft shell clams were transplanted.

Commissioner Jon Grant felt that planting smaller clams in mid- to late- May would be a better option, but that they would need to order them as soon as possible. He said growers have a limited supply and work on a first-come, first-served basis, so there was the additional issue of supply versus demand. Smaller clams would also be less expensive, and they could perhaps obtain 100,000 of a smaller size for the same amount of money as the 40,000 larger ones.

Another issue was the method of distribution of transplants. While very small ones were less expensive, when these were broadcast over an area, they often quickly disappeared. If they were put under nets, which the commission purchased last year, they would be less vulnerable to predators, and more likely to dig into the pond bed. Grant said that there  are others methods available also, including using a harrow to dig a slight trench on the bottom, raking them in, or using a seeder.

Since the commission didn’t know what the exact cost of the clams would be, and given the tight timeline, they made and passed a motion to “purchase the largest amount of clams that can be delivered by the end of May for $800.”

When it came to the more expensive reseeding of hard shell clams, the commissioners found themselves unsure of just how much was left in their budget, and also unsure of what the current prices for transplants would be.

Gempp noted that the commission currently uses only two suppliers and that he was exploring a third. This would not only expand the supply, but ensure against one of the other suppliers meeting some type of environmental or pathological catastrophe that could imperil their supply. Bendokas felt that if they were to explore changing suppliers, they should do so in November, not now.

As with the ordering of soft shell transplants, timing was of the essence, but with the next shellfish meeting just two weeks away, the commissioners felt that would give them enough time to get more exact prices and to determine exactly what was available in their budget.

Turning to the subject of seaweed, Grant reported on some research he was performing on the cultivation of seaweed as a possible means of reducing the nitrogen levels in the salt pond, which increase during the summer months. He was curious to see if it would work and wondered if it could be experimented with on a small scale. The idea was that the seaweed grown in the summer would absorb nitrogen from the water, and that it would be harvested in fall, before decaying and adding that same nitrogen back into the water. He explained that one method of cultivation was to utilize rope that has seed “growing on it like spat.”

Others noted that this could actually be a “cash crop” as seaweed becomes more sought after as an ingredient not only for sushi, but as a nutritious additive to bread when dried and ground up.

Gempp quickly added that due to state regulations, this could only be attempted within a designated aquaculture zone in the pond, as cultivating seaweed was indeed considered aquaculture.

Gempp also brought up the growing season for seaweed, which he thought was normally during winter. Grant responded that he had been in contact with Sarah Redmond, a Marine Extension Associate at the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Maine and that there were many different types of seaweed with varying growth habits.

All agreed that the idea was intriguing and they would research it more and discuss again at their next meeting.

But what else is growing beneath the waters? Gempp reported that “We have a new growth on the bottom…and we don’t know what it is” in what would be his last “Report from the Chair.”

Commissioner Joe Fallon said that he had seen this before, as had Grant. However, previously it had appeared only in spring and in small quantities. This winter though, the two reported that there were “acres of it” near Breezy Point and that “in some places you can’t see the bottom.”

When asked to describe this mysterious growth, the commissioners told this reporter (warning, this is not for the faint of heart): it’s a “tannish-brown, goopy, scummy slime.”

“It’s like mucous — you’re not going to put that in the paper are you?”

“It could be a Steven Spielberg film.”

“Yeah, what if it got in the sewers?”

“And came up through people’s drains?”

“Eww!”

But with all joking aside, the commission agreed to collect a sample, freeze it and send it to Dennis Erkan, a senior shellfish biologist at the DEM, who acts as an advisor to the commission.

Stay tuned — the next meeting of the Shellfish Commission will be on Feb. 11 at 4 p.m.

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