Shellfishing plan brings stakeholders to same table

John Howell
Posted 11/13/14

Half a day out of months may not seem like much, but it can be significant to those who make their living quahogging. It’s one change that has already come out of the Rhode Island Shellfishing …

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Shellfishing plan brings stakeholders to same table

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Half a day out of months may not seem like much, but it can be significant to those who make their living quahogging. It’s one change that has already come out of the Rhode Island Shellfishing Management Plan.

Dubbed a “groundbreaking public-private analysis of one of the state’s signature industries,” the plan will be celebrated on Monday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute on the Bay Campus in Narragansett. The special event is free and open to the public.

According to a release, ceremonies will honor the work of the diverse Shellfish Management Plan (SMP) stakeholders who have been researching the environmental and economic impacts of the state’s shellfishing industry. The plan addresses improvements for a range of areas, including marketing Rhode Island’s resources, keeping the industry viable and productive, restoring habitat and the proper handling and storing of shellfish.

Warwick quahogger Jody King and Shellfishermen’s Association President Michael McGiveney worked on the plan.

Reached at home Tuesday, McGiveney said when shellfishermen raised the issue of rain closures in the upper bay, DEM agreed that the current practice often extended the closure beyond the prescribed week by a day. In situations where the rain event took place at night, McGiveney said the clean water division agreed the area could be reopened a week later at noon instead of the following morning.

“It might not seem like much, but it’s a very productive area,” he said.

That is just the sort of communication that King feels was gained by working on the plan and what is needed going forward. He called the plan “a great start.”

The biggest benefit out of scores of meetings, King said, “We learned we could work together. All the teams were on the playing field and everything is in one document. It’s all in one place.”

King said the effort reached beyond those involved in planning. He conducted three “Come clamming with me” sessions this summer, where 30 to 40 Rhode Islanders spend four hours dry digging for clams. King showed people how to dig clams, and everyone left with quahogs and an appreciation of what a shellfishermen does for a living.

“It’s not easy,” he said.

McGiveney called drafting the plan “work” that required extensive meetings.

“It got a lot of groups talking to one another,” he said.

McGiveney said there are about 350 licensed quahoggers in the state, a drop of more than 600 from several years ago. He would like to see more young people coming into the business, an issue that was raised during the work sessions.

“There were a lot of positives, a lot of good ideas. We’ll see what gets done,” he said.

“The ultimate goal here is to make sure people can maximize and enjoy shellfish resources in a way that will continue to be central to our state’s cultural identity and economic future,” Janet Coit, director of the RI Department of Environmental Management, who helped lead the study, said in a statement. “We’re doing the best we can together to make the SMP as responsive as possible. That means lots of old-fashioned conversations to build trust and foster better understanding of the benefits, challenges and opportunities ahead. It’s an exciting time.”

The University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center and the Rhode Island Sea Grant College Program at the Graduate School of Oceanography provided key assistance for SMP development. The Coastal Resources Center facilitated research, development and community outreach; Rhode Island Sea Grant is supporting SMP research with $1.2 million to support scientific study of shellfish.

Three state agencies share responsibility for the recommendations, which have been developed over a year by shellfishers, regulators, industry supporters, community advocates and the public who regularly gathered as technical teams to examine and improve how policy and practices – from wild harvest and aquaculture – are overseen in Rhode Island. The state’s Department of Environmental Management, the Coastal Resources Management Council and the Department of Health will be responsible for the administration of the SMP.

The project is supported by URI’s College of Environmental Sciences, Roger Williams University, the URI Coastal Institute and the Rhode Island Council of the Humanities. Funders are the Prospect Hill Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, the van Beuren Charitable Foundation and the Sharpe Family Foundation/Henry and Peggy Sharpe. Input has come from leaders in the industry, including the Rhode Island Shellfishermen’s Association and the Ocean State Aquaculture Association.

The public event will honor the many members of the shellfishing community, public and private, who came together for the development of the SMP, the state’s first comprehensive initiative to manage, protect and enhance shellfishing in state waters. A raw bar and special video screening will be part of the festivities on Nov. 17. RSVPs are required at https://smp-celebration.eventbrite.com.

The full Rhode Island Shellfish Management Plan is available at www.rismp.org/the-plan.

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