Policing the pond

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 1:30pm

The Harbors Department may have moved its office from New Harbor back to Town Hall, but they’re still keeping their eyes on the pond and shellfish wardens will continue to patrol the shores.
One warden, Bill Johnson, attended the Shellfish Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13 and delivered, with humor, an assessment of his summer season with clammers, complete with the “Top Ten Excuses” for violating New Shoreham shellfishing ordinances.
The department has usually taken an
“education not enforcement” approach and Johnson said “It was a little awkward at first,” when it came to issuing violations. “Smalls,” or undersized clams, taking more than the limit, and shellfishing in prohibited areas are the most common violations. One of his observations was that “island residents are some of the most egregious violators.”
When Johnson does find an “egregious” violation, usually accompanied by a bad attitude, as opposed to an “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” he takes a photo of the person’s license so that he can mail them a ticket.
Harbormaster Kate McConville said she would like to find a way to flag violators in the licensing and renewal system so that if someone doesn’t pay their ticket, they will need to do so before renewing their license for the following season.
Commission member George Davis asked what percentage of people were violators, throwing out 10 percent as a number.
“Way more than that,” said Johnson. Most of the violations are minor, like “two smalls in a basket of 50.” He estimated he had an average of two major violations per day, but even so, only has issued a total of five tickets this year. “I was too lenient,” he said.
“There’s subjectiveness to this,” said commissioner Jon Berry. “What warrants a ticket? A basket of all smalls?”
“How could you get all smalls?” asked commissioner Tom Walsh. “That’s intentional.”
A bit later in the discussion, Johnson said, “On the flats, there are so many small clams. There’s a lot of clams, which is really good.”
Johnson felt that being on foot was more effective than trying to enforce the shell-fishing regulations by boat. But, he said, if you were patrolling at Andy’s Way, “You better know a lot about the island,” as you ended up being a de facto tour guide.
So what are the top 10 excuses on Johnson’s list?
10. That pile of clams near me was there when I arrived, the tide must have washed them in.
9. I’m only here for the day.
8. I am from R.I., I don’t need a license.
7. I am not clamming, I am just with them hanging out.
6. I didn’t understand how to use the gauge, nobody showed me.
5. I’ve been doing it this way for years.
4. I thought one license for the whole family was enough.
3. I just arrived on the island and the office was closed.
2. I was going to measure and throw back all the small clams at the end.
1. I left my license on the boat. (Or, in the car, or on the beach, etc.)
Despite discussing how to educate people on rules – and how to use a gauge – Johnson recommended creating a simple rules sign that could be hung on the Harbors shack and at Andy’s Way. One on one instruction didn’t seem practical to either him or to Harbors Assistant Hilary Ryan Stewart, who mans the shack. “The office is slammed in summer,” said Johnson. “There’s not time to talk clam. It’s hectic in there.”
Later in the meeting, Davis noted that he would like to “talk about enforcement of opening day for scallop season,” at the next meeting of the Shellfish Commission. The season for scallops starts November 6 and runs until December 31.
The season for oysters began September 15 and will run through the spring.
There is no season for soft-shell clams as there are so few in the Great Salt Pond. The town-owned upweller was utilized this season to try to grow soft-shells from seed. “We learned a lot about the upweller, and what not to do,” said Davis. Although it was a lot of work, he added that they grew well, from a starting size of 0.5 to 2 millimeters. Now they are approximately 15 millimeters.
In another experiment, Davis set out larger soft-shell seed in flower pots covered in netting in a few selected areas of the Great Salt Pond. The pots will be dug up soon and the baby clams inside measured and tabulated. “I have a strong feeling the Cormorant Cove plots were the most successful,” he said.