Shellfish Commission studying habits of invasive crabs

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 10:15am
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The New Shoreham Shellfish Commission held its first meeting since February on Tuesday, Sept. 15 via Zoom. It was both a wrap-up of the summer season and planning for next year.

Covid did not keep clammers from clamming this summer, with the sale of seasonal shellfish licenses on a par with last year. Administrative assistant and clerk to the committee, Hillary Stewart, said: “People saw it as a socially distanced activity.”

Despite the Great Salt Pond being seeded with fewer clams last spring than in previous years, Head Shellfish Warden Nancy Ziomek reported that she had received no complaints about a lack of clams.

There were a few problems noted. One person wrote to the committee with the observation that people were not re-burying dug clams that were under the size limit for harvesting, and Harbormaster Kate McConville, who was absent for the meeting, but sent in a written report, reported that people were observed taking soft-shell clams, which are prohibited from being harvested at any time. Commission member Tom Walsh said he had heard of complaints of the lack of parking near Cormorant Cove as residents in that area appear to have blocked off areas formerly available for vehicles.

In an effort to understand the population and habits of invasive green crabs, Commission Vice Chair George Davis reported that he, in conjunction with the Block Island Maritime Institute, has been trapping crabs on a weekly basis for the past 17 weeks. Two traps are set for a 24-hour time period at the BIMI dock and the crabs caught are evaluated as to size, sex, shell condition, and total weight. He said that some weeks they have captured 150 crabs per trap. The survey is part of a greater initiative to understand the extent of the green crab problem and the habits of the species.

Spider crabs are also a problem in the pond, and Davis, along with commission member Jon Berry, who has also been setting crab traps, said which species is caught is quite location specific. In the future, Davis wants to map the location of the traps and the particular species found in them. It would be “a fascinating project,” said Davis.

“We saw the same thing,” said Berry, who, with his son, set traps near the bridge on Ocean Avenue. “We got mostly green crabs, then one week it was all spider crabs. I can’t make sense of it,” adding that he does like studying the data.

Trapped green crabs have been put to good use. Although soft-shells are the most desirable as a foodstuff, Davis said: “Molting is eluding us.” They did see some earlier in May and June, but not in July and August as expected. He has been providing green crabs to chef Phil Walsh who uses them for stock for a crab bisque at Finn’s. (As Finn’s has closed, look for this delicious offering at Old Island Pub.)

As for the future, the commission decided that seeding was not needed in the inner ponds, but they would pursue obtaining more seed clams for next spring. They also will consult with the Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council’s new aquaculture coordinator Ben Goetsch on the possibility of transplanting clams from deeper waters to shallower areas.

Goetsch has replaced Dave Beutel, who retired in June, and he introduced himself to the commission at the beginning of the meeting, but left before the conversation on transplanting began.

Local clammers will be happy to know that the season for harvesting oysters opened on Sept. 15. Oysters must be at least three inches long to harvest, and the season will continue until May 15, 2021. Scallop season does not begin until November 2, and will close on December 31.

The Harbors Department will close its office at the Boat Basin and return to Town Hall on Sept. 22. For information on hours when you can obtain a license, call (401) 466-3204.