Shellfish closures go into effect soon

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 10:30am

The Harbors Department and the New Shoreham Shellfish Commission have set the dates for the 2017 shell-fishing season and seasonal closures. The schedule is closely aligned with the R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s openings and closures for shell-fishing elsewhere in the state, according to Harbormaster Steve Land. 

Since the Great Salt Pond incorporates several different areas for shell-fishing, and several different types of shellfish, the schedule is complex, but generally speaking, the change in the current schedule goes into effect at sunset on the Friday just before Memorial Day — May 26. A detailed map of the pond and exact dates for the various fisheries is available at the Harbors Department office at Town Hall. 

Shellfish licenses

Last month the Shellfish Commission started discussing changing the process whereby people may obtain their shell-fishing licenses, and on Tuesday, April 11, they continued that discussion. Harbors Department Administrative Assistant and Shellfish Commission Clerk Tracy Fredericks said she had talked with the town’s information technology specialist, Michelle Spero, about the idea of putting the application process online. “She thought it was a great idea,” said Fredericks, but one of the first steps will be to decide just what information should be on the license, and whether it will be necessary to have an identifying picture.

Commissioner Ray Boucher thought that perhaps information such as height, gender, eye color and hair color would suffice to identify people instead of a photograph.

Shellfish Commission Chair Joe Fallon noted that his state license did not have a picture, but did have the kind of information Boucher had noted. 

Another idea that had been bounced around was whether the licenses could be obtained from other vendors outside the Harbors Department, such as bait shops. Land was a bit wary of the idea, saying that he “knows his staff tells people the (shellfishing) rules and regulations, but other vendors might not.”

Fredericks said that first-time license holders could be encouraged to come into the office to obtain their gauges, which are free, and could be advised of the regulations at that time.

“As an enforcement guy,” said Land, “you want to give them the right tools to comply.” Having people obtain licenses in person was an opportunity to show people how to properly use the gauge.

No changes will go into effect for this year, but the discussion will be continued. 

Ponds management

When it came to reviewing and proposing changes to the Commission’s five-year plan for the management of the Great Salt Pond, the conversation was similarly lengthy and long-range. One of the items on the plan calls for the “restoration of the inner ponds” in the Great Salt Pond. They have been filling in with sand and silt. “That’s nature’s way,” said Boucher, who doubted they would get the cooperation of the R.I. Coastal Resources Council if they proposed dredging.

Land said he had priced out dredging near Payne’s Dock and that it was “pricey.” He also noted that the “CRMC said ‘unless there’s a very good reason they wouldn’t be in favor of it.’ People are complaining that it’s getting very thin there,” he said, referring to the increasing shallowness of the portion of the channel that extends from the Coast Guard Station, through the Pond, along Payne’s Dock and then into the Hog Pen. 

Fallon said he has to be careful navigating through to the Hog Pen and was mindful of the tides.

“I’d love to dredge that area,” said Land, “but the price is astronomical. All those boats [docked] at the Hog Pen time it just right.”

“I don’t know if it’s in our purview,” said Fallon of the subject of dredging, noting that there was also no commercial purpose to it since no ferries go through to the Hog Pen. 

Due to the cost and complexity of the process, the Commission agreed that such a proposal could take years of consideration, but that it was “a good time to start the conversation” with the Town Council.  

Land explained to The Times after the meeting that while the Army Corps of Engineers dredges the Coast Guard Channel every year or two, dredging anywhere else in the Great Salt Pond comes under the jurisdiction of CRMC, which only allows dredging between October and January to protect the winter flounder. The Army Corps usually performs its dredging in May.

Another goal of the five-year plan is to: “Petition the Town Council to study breaching Sachem Pond to Rhode Island Sound and consider tidal generation in the project.” Land noted that previous Shellfish Commissions had felt that Sachem Pond was “under-utilized.” Land, who is a windsurfer, said that there was currently too much seaweed in the pond to go windsurfing.

Others recalled a time when swimming in Sachem Pond was common, but no one does currently. Commissioner Paige Gaffett said she used to swim there as a child but that the water went from “clean to dirty very quickly.”

Sachem Pond had its last major breach during Hurricane Bob in 1991, changing the water from fresh to brackish. Complicating the water quality is the existence of many types of birds and run-off from the surrounding areas. Fallon noted that a lot of the area was part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s bird sanctuary.

It was suggested that money could be used for water testing and studies, at the least to obtain some base-line data on Sachem Pond, and it was thought that other organizations, such as the Committee for the Great Salt Pond and The Nature Conservancy might want to participate. 

“Next time I talk to DEM, I’ll plant the seed,” said Land.