Keeping Block Island waters healthy

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 7:00pm
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Snow and sleet didn’t stop the members of the Shellfish Commission from gathering for their monthly meeting on a recent Tuesday night, and as wind whipped the windows at Town Hall, the members held a lively discussion on several topics.

The first order of business was electing new officers. Joe Fallon, who has been chair of the commission for the past few years, decided it was time to pass on the reins. There have been several new members of the commission in the past couple of years, and Fallon said he had been “waiting for others to get up to speed.”

Still, everyone was reluctant to take on the job, but after some coaxing, and offers of help, Wendell Corey agreed to take on the position of chair, and George Davis agreed to be vice-chair.

Eliminating the green crab

Davis, the newest member of the commission, has been actively involved in researching the invasive green crab — an effort that has led him to reaching out to others involved in similar endeavors to reduce the presence of this predator, which is leading to the reduction of other shellfish species in the northeast region.

In particular, Davis has made contacts through Green Crab R & D, a not-for-profit in Maine, which has the mission to, basically, get people to eat them. He will, along with Catherine Puckett, be attending the Maine Fishermen’s Forum which is featuring a session on developments in the green crab fishery and “market development” on March 2.

Marissa McMahon, Senior Fisheries Scientist for Green Crab R & D has been especially helpful in providing information about the species to Davis, and he has invited her (and she accepted) to give a talk at the Block Island Maritime Institute’s Tuesday Night Lecture Series on July 9.

Public participation will be vital to making a significant reduction in the green crab population of the Great Salt Pond. The first step may be “educational signage” and Davis was encouraged to explore what, if any, signage is being used in other communities, so they wouldn’t need to design their own.

Spawning oysters at Cormorant Cove

Oyster farmer Chris Warfel attended the meeting seeking to gain support from the commission for oyster farmers to be able to “spawn oyster spat on shell” as part of the oyster reef restoration project at Cormorant Cove. In the past, the farmers have taken bags of cultch (shells) to the mainland where they are submerged in a tank containing oyster larvae with the hopes that the larvae will attach to the cultch. The shells are then brought back and distributed over the reef with the hope that the baby oysters will grow.

Warfel is hoping to eliminate the need to take the cultch off-island, and to instead perform the process here. “It would save eight transfers of bags,” said Warfel, a process that needs to be planned “like a military campaign, aligning everything to work out.” He noted such obstacles as unexpected traffic jams that could prolong the transfers and compromise the success of the endeavor.

Warfel, and other oyster farmers on the island are working under a grant for the project, and if they aren’t successful in getting the spat to attach to the shells, they don’t get paid. (Chris Littlefield and Puckett are also participating in the grant program.)

Members of the commission had lots of questions about the project. “I think we’re all interested” said member Ray Boucher, “but where and how is eluding us now.”

As for the how, Warfel said he had attended a class on the subject in Boston, and was currently thinking of utilizing a collapsible swimming pool for the tank. He said it could be either an oval or circle, about 12 feet by six feet in size, and filled to a depth of three feet of water. The tank would be outfitted with both a seawater pump with filter and an aerator. The whole process would only take about two weeks and would be conducted when the water temperature reached the right levels in the spring.

The where was more complicated. Warfel said he had talked to Town Manager Ed Roberge about using an area at the Coast Guard Station, but also said there were many more possibilities — both on public and private property — where the tank could be erected. “We have other options to choose from,” said Warfel. “We just need support” from the town.

After much discussion on exactly where the project could take place without interfering with other uses of the Coast Guard Station (if that was the chosen place), as well as the security of the tank, the commissioners requested more information from Warfel, including a copy of what he had submitted to the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Commission for the project.

“I think we support the idea — we just need more information,” said Fallon. With that a motion was brought forth and passed to “approve the concept.”