On the hit list: Green crabs

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 5:30pm
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There was no quorum at Tuesday’s Shellfish Commission meeting, but nevertheless there were some lively discussions revolving around both restoration and elimination of certain species of shellfish with The Block Island Times.

At the Commission’s last meeting, Chair Joe Fallon said he had received an inquiry from someone wishing to obtain a nonresident commercial shell-fishing license. This month he received a letter from the same man who expressed not only an interest in obtaining the license, but also the willingness to trap green crabs. 

“That’s the carrot,” said Commissioner Ray Bouchet.

Green crabs have been on the Shellfish Commission’s hit list. The invasive crabs are predators and suspected to be one of the reasons for the decline in the softshell clam population. The commission has unsuccessfully tried to seed the Great Salt Pond with soft shell clams in the past, and the taking of them is no longer permitted.

“You don’t need a license to trap green crabs,” said Harbormaster Steve Land. Later he would say: “If he thinks he can hit it really hard, we could help.”

The problem with the nonresident license is that there is only one available, and it’s taken, although the holder doesn’t actually appear to be using it. “Do we have the power to start a waiting list?” asked Fallon. 

Land said the town has a lot of crab traps that can be utilized, but that it is also heavy work that “gets old fast.” After the crabs get trapped, they need to be killed or left to die somewhere. It can be a stinky operation.

Commissioners thought they were seeing more spider crabs than green crabs in the pond, but Land said it was a matter of location, with the green crabs congregating in the inner ponds.

Fallon said the wishful applicant’s boat was too big to navigate the shallow inner ponds, though.

George Davis, who after months of attendance at Shellfish Commission meetings, has officially been appointed by the Town Council, said he would be willing to help trap crabs with the town’s equipment. 

Fallon said it was a project that would need to wait until April or so. “They won’t go into the pot in the cold — they slow down.”

As for what to do with the crabs, which typically aren’t eaten, although they evidently make a good soup stock, Boucher said: “Put them in barrels — I’ll compost them.” He said the crab shells have “all the ingredients” to make a good garden supplement, especially calcium. After the discussion, he told The Times that when covered with dirt in the composting process, there was no detectable odor. 

Oyster restoration program

Shellfish farmer Chris Littlefield provided an update to The Times on the status of his involvement with the NRCS Oyster Restoration Program.

The program is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and 2019 will be Littlefield’s second year in the program. Shellfish farmers Chris Warfel and Catherine Puckett are also involved in the program.

The first year didn’t go so well, Littlefield told The Times. The program involves growing out oyster larvae on shells that are contained in mesh bags, otherwise known as “spat on shell.”

The bags are submerged in a tank that contains the larvae and the hope is that the larvae will attach to the shells. The shells can then be transferred to the restoration area, which is located in Cormorant Cove.

For 2018, Littlefield tried a new local source for the larvae and took his bags of shell to Cape Cod for the attachment phase.

The results? Only about one oyster attachment per bag, far below the USDA’s “standard” for payment under the grant program. 

So, this year Littlefield wants to try something different — using a tank on Block Island to try to get the larvae to attach to the shells, perhaps at the Block Island Maritime Institute.

He said the participating farmers “can all coordinate or do it themselves.” 

He will need permits from both the R.I. Coastal Management Resources Council and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, which needs to okay the releasing of the tank water back into the pond. 

“If one of us gets good at it, we might be able to help the town” in its shellfish programs, said Littlefield.