Scallop season off to a great start

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 6:15pm

Scallop season has opened in the Great Salt Pond and the bi-valves appear to be plentiful. But that’s not the only good news. Harbormaster Steve Land told members of the Shellfish Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 13 that “people said they find tiny scallops everywhere.” Since the pond hasn’t been seeded with baby scallops in the past couple of years, this indicates that they are reproducing naturally.

“I’ve heard nothing but good,” said Shellfish Commission Chair Joe Fallon, regarding the scallop population.

That bodes well for the commission’s long-term plans for making the pond more sustainable, a plan they adopted a few years ago that included the acquisition of the upweller for the purpose of growing out seed clams.

The five-year plan also includes a goal for predator reduction — specifically the European green crab. At their last meeting the commissioners agreed to find out more about the biology of the species so that instead of just trapping the crabs, they could determine how that trapping could be timed so as to interrupt, or slow the reproduction rate. According to the website of the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology, ( females can lay up to 100,000 eggs at a time.

Commissioner Ray Bouchet said that the crabs have moved around to various locations in the pond.

Commissioner Wendell Corey said they like to move to deep water in the winter, so that would be a good place to trap them.

As far as reproduction, Commissioner George Davis said the females molt around September and Fallon added: “That’s when they mate — when the female’s soft.”

Over the past couple of months the commission worked to tweak the annual lease agreement with Block Island’s shellfish farmers. Currently the farmers must move their product from leases in the inner ponds to areas that are open for shell-fishing in the summer so that they can harvest the product for sale. One of the changes was to widen the window for the removal of gear after the summer season in order to aid the farmers.

Land said he had a discussion with oyster farmer Perry Phillips on the possibility of finding a year-round location so that the annual transfer needn’t take place. One possibility he said was Cormorant Cove, but Phillips didn’t feel that was a good area for growth. Another factor is that areas of the pond that are open year-round for shell-fishing already have multiple uses. “We really didn’t come up with an idea,” said Land.

Oyster farmer Chris Warfel said it was a big effort move things out from the winter lease area to the summer one. “If you move too little” product, he said, “you’re out of luck.”

“If you could bring out product earlier,” asked Corey, “would that help?”

“You already did that,” said Land, referring to the earlier changes to the lease terms.

That brought about some confusion as to whether the commission had recommended an earlier start date in May as to when gear could be moved to the summer location, or had just extended the timeframe for removing the gear in the fall.

Harbormaster Assistant and Shellfish Commission Clerk Kate McConville said that the recommended changes, which had been sent to Town Manager Ed Roberge had not yet gone to the Town Council for approval, so there was still time to make amendments.

“So we’re at the second Saturday in May now,” said Fallon of the starting date.

The commissioners ultimately decided to move the start date up to the beginning of May and simplify the language so that the summer lease will be, more simply, from May 1 to Oct. 31.

An annual exercise for the Shellfish Commission is to review the list of those wishing to either obtain, or renew a commercial shell-fishing license. Based on their recommendations, the list is sent to the Town Council for final approval. You must be a year-round resident to obtain a commercial license, although there is a provision for one non-resident license. 

As members reviewed the list, some noted that a few of the applicants didn’t actually use those licenses for commercial purposes, and they questioned whether or not that was fair to others who might want to shellfish commercially.

“There’re a limited number of licenses,” said Bouchet. “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” said Land. “You don’t have to use it — it extends your catch limit.”

Fallon, who recused himself from the actual vote as he holds a commercial license, said “I did have someone express interest in the non-resident license.”

“So, you can have a non-resident license, and keep that for years without using it?” asked Commissioner Hunter Barto.

“Yes,” said Land.

“Wow, that’s one lucky person,” said Barto. 

Currently there are seven applicants for residential licenses, and one for the non-resident license. At the beginning of the discussion, it was thought that the limit was nine residential licenses, but upon further investigation, that number was discovered to be 20, alleviating the concern about “fairness.”