Kelp, crabs and clams — and docks

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 5:30pm
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This should be the last winter that docks are stored at Rat Island, Harbormaster Steve Land told members of the Shellfish Commission on Tuesday, April 9. The docks belong to the Boat Basin and have been stored at Rat Island in the off-season for years. But, now that the Boat Basin is under new management — and renamed the New Harbor Boat Basin — the marina is getting new docks, ones that are capable of being hauled out of the water, unlike the old docks.

Land termed the docks “unpermitted,” meaning that there is no actual Coastal Resources Management Council assent for them to be stored at Rat Island, and he urged the Shellfish Commission to write a letter to the Town Council asking them to “enforce the laws” regarding unpermitted docks so the practice does not continue in the future.

The commission members agreed, adding that the off-season storage of the docks was “impeding on the public interest.” However, the matter, brought up by Land in his harbormaster’s report, was not on the agenda, so it will be taken up again at next month’s meeting.

As are most town boards, the Shellfish Commission is an advisory committee to the Town Council and they have a couple of other matters for the Council to consider.

The first item needs to go to the town solicitor first and involves the creation of a new ordinance that would prohibit the throwing of fish racks into the waters of the Great Salt Pond and New Harbor. It’s a practice that has been discouraged for years, but in researching the matter, the Harbors Department hasn’t been able to find regulations at the state or local level that actually prohibit it, except for a line in the Old Harbor Dock Policy disallowing the throwing of “offal” into the water.

What to do with the fish racks instead of throwing them into the water is somewhat tricky. Commissioner George Davis suggested putting out totes with lids for the general public to dispose them in, but Land said they would “fill up instantly,” and not only with fish racks as people would also dispose of other garbage in the totes. There is the added problem of smell.

“It’s a nice idea to get them as bait,” said Shellfish Commission Chair Joe Fallon, “but it doesn’t work.” He too noted the tendency of bait barrels to be contaminated with garbage.

“We would freeze them at the Coast Guard Station to use as bait,” said Land, “but the freezer died.” (If anyone has a chest freezer they no longer want, call the Harbors Department.)

Land said there was no need to put a suggested ordinance in “legalese.” Instead, he said Town Solicitor, Kathy Merolla “just wants to know what you want,” and she would adjust the language.

Another item for the Council is the annual task of setting dates for the seasonal closure of three areas of the Great Salt Pond for shell-fishing. The dates are reflective of those the R.I. Department of Environmental Management sets for other areas in the state, but are slightly more stringent. Details of the closing and opening dates will be incorporated into the annual shell- and fin-fishing brochure once the Town Council approves them.

That annual brochure is in the process of being revamped, including a new map of the Great Salt Pond, and this year it will also come with an educational insert on invasive crabs. Davis said he had found a two-sided informational brochure from the CRMC that had good information, and good pictures of the crabs that could be utilized.

“Why not put it on one page, and hand it out with shellfish licenses,” suggested Commissioner Ray Boucher.

Commissioner Wendell Corey suggested laminating some of them to put up at marinas.

Davis, who has been researching the invasive green crab, thought the insert should “tell people what they can do with them,” such as using them in cooking.

Regarding cooking the crabs, Boucher felt that island visitors would be unlikely to do so as they were “only looking for what they can eat that night,” such as the clams they have collected.

So, what to do with them instead? “Eat it or kill it,” was the suggestion. Whether that will be the official slogan of the invasive crab eradication campaign remains to be seen…

Davis, along with shellfish and kelp farmer Catherine Puckett have been voluntarily trapping crabs, and Land asked them how it was going.

“They’re catching more crabs than ever,” said Puckett.

Davis said the traps were attracting both Asian and green crabs.

The Harbors Department owns several crab traps and Land said he, with help from his assistants, could put out additional traps next week.

As Block Island gears up for summer, other activities on the Great Salt Pond will include seeding the pond with full-sized clams in May. Land said those clams, which have been ordered from the mainland, as well as the seed clams for the upweller, were “on track.”

During the week of April 21, Puckett will harvest her first crop of sugar kelp from her lease area in the Great Salt Pond.

At a public hearing held on Thursday, April 4 by the CRMC for a “preliminary determination” on Jon Grant’s proposal for a second sugar-kelp farm in the pond, Dave Beutel, the CRMC’s State Aquaculture Coordinator said Puckett’s kelp was “the best he’s seen” in Rhode Island.