Changes to clamming license procedure proposed

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 7:30am

The New Shoreham Town Clerk’s office has requested that the process for obtaining a commercial shell-fishing license be streamlined. In the past, there was a two-step process that involved sending out renewal applications, and then a second notice stating that the application had been approved by a recommendation of the Shellfish Commission and affirmative vote by the Town Council.

The new system will cut out the first step — sending out renewal applications. Instead, it will be assumed that the licensee will automatically want to renew and only notices saying “your license is available to be picked up,” will be sent. It will then be on the onus of the applicant to provide proof of eligibility and payment when the license is picked up. 

The proposal was approved by the Shellfish Commission at a meeting on Dec. 12, as was the list of commercial shell fishermen. The Commission approved renewing the licenses of eight Block Island residents, and one non-resident. The list will be sent on to the Council for final approval. Commission Chair Joe Fallon recused himself from the vote because he holds a commercial license. 

Harbormaster Steve Land told the Commissioners that the water quality in the Great Salt Pond is “fantastic.” During the summer, tests are performed more frequently, but at this time of year they’re done once a month. 

Currently, there’s a new phase of testing being performed at the behest of the R.I. Department of Environmental Management. Early last March, the presence of the algae Pseudo nitzschia caused the closing of shell-fishing in Narragansett Bay. The algae can produce domoic acid, a neurotoxin that can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning. Although the toxin was detected in the Great Salt Pond, it was far below the levels found in Narraganset Bay, and was below the threshold set by the Food and Drug Administration.

Land said that he has been asked by DEM to test for the algae, not just in the GSP, but out in the ocean at the buoy known as Block Island One. He said that the algae wasn’t “brewed” in the Bay, but out in the open ocean and that testing off the island would be a first indicator that the algae could return. 

Besides testing water, Land collects samples of mussels for the DEM, as they are the first shellfish indicator. He said that of all the mussels tested, not a single one tested positive for the toxin.

Plans are already underway for next season. Land said he and Head Shellfish Warden Nancy Ziomek were working on plans for seeding the Pond with harvestable-sized clams, as well as what to grow out in the upweller.

This will be the third year using the upweller, and Land and Ziomek hope to grow out 100,000 clams in the device. The big change is that they will be starting with larger seed clams — 20 millimeters — a size that Fallon says is the minimum for the clams to stave off predators. Land said it would eliminate the extra step of growing the clams out to about that 20 mm size, and then moving them out to a safe area where they will continue to grow before being spread out in the pond. “It’s one less major step,” said Land. “The key is getting the seed.” Last year they had problems getting as many seed clams as they wanted, and the delivery was late due to cold water temperatures.

Land said he was thinking about getting a second upweller, but “hoping someone smarter than me will talk me out of it.” He also said that Ziomek would like to focus more of her work on the upweller. “It’s very social,” Land said of the upweller. As soon as they open the doors, “every kid from the Block Island Maritime Institute comes down. It’s really fun. People just go ‘what are you doing?’”

It’s also educational, and the Commissioners suggested putting up some sort of signage on the dock explaining what the upweller does.

Fallon, in his report, said that a lot of people were out scalloping in the pond. 

Usually scalloping requires diving in a wet suit, but Commissioner Paige Gaffett said she had scooped some up in her rake while clamming.

Commissioner Ray Boucher said that the scallop population seemed strong, although not as strong as last year. But swimmers beware: Boucher said he saw “a lot of [Portuguese] man o’ wars in the pond last week.  Big ones — on the west side of the pond.”