Prepping for shellfish season on Block Island

Fri, 05/21/2021 - 11:45am
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The Shellfish Commission met on May 11, 2021 to discuss restocking the clam population and the state of the Great Salt Pond in general. Water testing has been completed, pathology testing has been completed and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources
Management Council confirms the pond is good to go for clam restocking, according to Harbormaster Kate McConville.
McConville explained that the clams would be put on ice and delivered by ferry on May 19. From there, they are transported to Payne’s Dock where they are divided into three boats, two from the Harbors Department and one belonging to the Committee for the Great Salt Pond. Each boat needs three people, one piloting the craft and two to dump the clams over the side, McConville said. She anticipates the whole process to take about three hours.
The clams will dig into the sandy bottom of the pond within twelve hours, and since they will be dumped at high tide, there is no need to close off the pond, McConville said. There is no shell-fishing allowed after dark, and by the time the clammers arrive the next morning, the quahogs should be sufficiently buried.
McConville is also planning to have the town-owned upweller installed and the oysters seeded by the week of Memorial Day. An upweller is a system of tanks that allow water, from Great Salt Pond in this case, to flow up and over the oyster spat so that they receive food and nutrients while remaining in a protective environment. Oyster larvae are called spat once they attach to a surface, in this case inside the silos of the upweller.
Once the interior components of the upweller are installed and stocked with seed the Commission will set up a schedule for the weekly cleaning. This involves hosing down the bags and cleaning the accumulated gunk out of the silos. This usually occurs in conjunction with the Block Island Maritime Institute and their interns, McConville said.
Beach cleanup was also discussed, as the trash and waste from the boaters on the pond ends up caught in the grasses along the water’s edge. The garbage is primarily floats and other bits of Styrofoam, and increases in quantity as the boaters start to arrive with the summer season. McConville stated that she has a beach cleanup day planned prior to this year’s Race Week, once her full staff arrives on the island.
A question was raised regarding the trapping of green crabs. As previously reported in The Block Island Times, green crabs are an invasive species whose predatory behavior disturbs and disrupts the habitats of the other types of shellfish native to Great Salt Pond. It is speculated that they have hastened the decline of soft-shell clams in the pond. A major problem with green crabs is what to do with them, as they are a smaller species that makes them unpopular for cooking.

Vice-chair George Davis described the green crab as currently less dominant in the pond than the spider crab. He said the green crabs are still a problem as an invader.
McConville stated that she is not going to trap any green crabs until there is a plan in place for what to do with them. She does not want to trap them just to kill them, with no useful purpose. Green crabs are sometimes used for bait, and there was at least one fisherman engaged in this activity in the fall. Fall and early spring are the best times to trap them, McConville said.

BIMI is also trapping the green crabs as part of their crab monitoring study, but their work does not have a major impact on the crab population, according to Davis. Member Jonathan Berry mentioned that he uses them as fertilizer in his garden. The question of what to do with the green crabs in Great Salt Pond is ongoing and is one with no easy answers.