Salt Pond open to clamming

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 5:15pm

The Great Salt Pond is now open to clamming, but not all clams can be harvested.

Harbormaster Steve Land updated the Shellfish Commission at its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 9. The taking of soft-shell clams is prohibited, and there is no clamming in areas under lease to aqua-culturists, Land said.

Aqua-culturist Catherine Puckett asked Land who she should call if she sees someone clamming on her lease. He responded that she should talk to them first, and then either call him or the police in his absence. But he did also caution her: “Is your lease well marked? If it’s not, it’s not fair to yell at them.”

That prompted a discussion on the proper marking of leases with corner markers and buoys. Shellfish Chair Joe Fallon said the markers should be “uniform.”

Land said: “Uniform means the same color.”

Puckett asked whether that meant all of the buoys, or just the corner markers should be the same color.

Commissioner Wendell Corey said: “Aren’t you supposed to have your numbers on them?”

The question prompted more confusion — exactly what numbers were to be used.

Land said: “Right now we have a mismatch of random crap out there.” He said he knows whose lease is where, “but if things go astray” he wouldn’t know whose equipment belongs to whom.

The intent isn’t to make things difficult. Land said that Dave Beutel of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council “said ‘make this successful.’”

When discussing the agenda item on “Educational signage,” Land asked: “What if we put a sign in the pathway from Beach Avenue saying ‘no clamming on leases’?”

Those in attendance thought that was a great idea, and commissioner Paige Gaffett volunteered to make a sign, which will be placed at the entrance to the greenway trail on Beach Avenue near Twin Maples. “A lot of people don’t know [about the leases] – they’re not being malicious,” said Land.

Another thing people apparently don’t know about is the proper disposal of fish skeletons, or racks, after the fish have been gutted.

They should be disposed of in the trash — either at the receptacle at the boat ramp or in their own trash bins.

“A lot of people don’t know” what to do with them, said Land, who called for additional signage on the subject.

“It’s not intuitive,” said resident George Davis, who the Shellfish Commission is recommending the Town Council appoint to the Commission.

Corey said people who are cleaning fish on their boats and often just throw the racks off the side.

Land said some people think it okay to throw the racks into the water in the off-season, but it’s not.

One of the problems in throwing fish racks into the water is that it provides more food for the invasive and predatory green crabs. One of the goals of the Shellfish Commission’s five-year plan is the reduction of the population of green crabs in the Great Salt Pond. 

“The more we take out, the better for everyone,” said Commissioner Ray Boucher, who volunteered to research the lifecycle and habits of the species. They “could be a prime example of why soft-shells aren’t here.”

Trapping and removing the crabs is labor intensive. “No one wants to do it, but everyone wants it done,” said Boucher.

“I’ll volunteer,” said Puckett.

Land said his department has been trapping the crabs by putting out about 20 traps, although they have 130 more in storage. “They completely fill up in two days” when baited, he said, although the main type of crab found in the traps was the spider crab.

Anyone who would like to harvest green crabs is encouraged to do so. There is no closed season on the taking of crabs, and there is no shellfish license required. (You do need to be a Rhode Island resident to take blue crabs, however, according to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.)

“There are a lot of recipes online,” for green crabs said Corey.

“You can also make fertilizer,” said Boucher. “It’s an asset that can be utilized.”

Boucher has explored the idea of composting the green crabs and aqua-culturist Chris Warfel suggested adding the crabs to a town run composting initiative that could be run out of the Transfer Station.

Boucher, who formerly worked for the Sewer Department, said that the Sewer Department had looked into composting, but there “wasn’t enough square feet” at the Transfer Station and that there was “too much run-off.”

Warfel said there may be ways to do it and the “benefits may out-weigh the added costs.”

“It’s not the cost, it’s the space,” said Boucher.

Besides clamming, the Great Salt Pond is now open for the taking of oysters. The season opened on September 15. The season for scallops begins on November 4 and ends on December 31. Land said that The Nature Conservancy’s surveying of scallops indicated that the “population looks good.”

Language changes to the annual aquaculture contract agreement between the town and aqua-culturists were discussed with the three farmers in attendance, and approved. The contract will be sent to the town manager for review. Some of the changes came at the request of Warfel, who owns Sun Farm Oysters, and he thanked the Commission. As for the change in notifying the harbormaster of when a farmer is going out to their lease to collect product, from 24 hours, to “just before,” Warfel said: “That’s a good change. It’s hard to plan ahead. I appreciate that.”

As for extending the time frame for when farmers can get their gear in and out of the water, Warfel said: “I appreciate that too. That extra two weeks helps a lot.”