DEM encouraging more oyster reefs in Cormorant Cove

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 8:30am

Some years ago four areas in Cormorant Cove were approved for oyster reef restoration projects under the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This program’s purpose and goal is to “work with aquaculture oyster growers to help restore the functions and values of oyster reefs by creating new reefs in approved areas,” according to the USDA’s website.

The aim is to restore or create oyster reefs, which were once abundant in Rhode Island, and local aqua-culturists were invited to apply to participate in the program, which supplies funding for obtaining cultch (shells) and “spat on shell.” The cultch is laid on the ground and provides a surface for the spat to attach to and grow.

Of the four approved sites in the Great Salt Pond, only two were applied for and granted. Chris Warfel and Chris Littlefield each have one of the sites. Now, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, which administers the program in Rhode Island, wants to open up the program to additional applicants who might want to take one of the two vacant sites. 

One of the requirements for participation is that the applicant go to the local shellfish commission for approval. At the Block Island Shellfish Commission’s meeting on April 10, Catherine Puckett did just that.

Commission Chair Joe Fallon asked if the area would be for “restoration only,” and was told it was.

Puckett said she was being asked to “put in a million spat on shell.” Before that can happen though, cultch must be laid down. Cultch is a stone or broken shell foundation on which an oyster bed is formed. Not just any shell can be used as cultch. It must be disinfected first, either by being steamed or by being laid out to dry for six months. 

The commissioners didn’t have any problems with the restoration effort. Commissioner Wendell Corey summed it up by saying:  “It’s all good.”

If Puckett’s application is approved by the DEM, restoration efforts will begin in 2019. 

Restoring the soft-shell clam population in the Great Salt Pond is also on the commission’s wish list. In the past, seeding the pond has been unsuccessful. One of the reasons is the presence of the invasive green crab which feeds upon the tiny clam larvae.

Fallon brought the March issue of Fishermen’s Voice, a Maine publication, to the meeting, noting it contained an article that could provide a new strategy for battling the green crabs. The article “Can Farming Save the Clam Fishery” focuses on the efforts of Dr. Brian Beal, research director for the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education, in fighting the predators.

Beal designed what has come to be known as the “Beal box,” a rectangular wooden box with a fine mesh screen on the top and bottom that, when placed in clam flats, collects the native clam spat while keeping out the crabs. (Other types of spat were also collected in the boxes.)

Fallon thought the idea of using the Beal boxes might be worth pursuing, and he said he would contact the researchers for more information and possibly some guidance. 

The Shellfish Commission also approved the dates for this year’s openings and closings for shell-fishing in the Great Salt Pond.  As per usual, the dates are aligned with the DEM’s opening and closings in the rest of the state. The only difference is that when a DEM opening or closing occurs at sunrise on a given date, Block Island’s opening/closing will be at sunset on the day before.

When asked why the slight difference, Fallon said: “To show we have control over the Pond.”

Opening and closing dates will be published in the Harbor’s Department’s annual brochure.