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The paid destruction of the Rhode Island Quahog industry happened over a twenty to thirty year period, with the bulk happening between the 1980’s and 1990’s. Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), University of Rhode Island (URI), Roger Williams University (RWU), and directly and indirectly, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA). These groups decided long ago it was going to be money instead of food for the Rhode Island Quahog industry, and they, the ‘experts,’ got paid to do it.
The destruction of the RI quahog fishery of 3000 fishers took place with a regulation change for measuring the minimum size of quahogs from RIDEM, going from a ‘ring size of one inch diameter minimum size to a hinge size of one inch width, which was the N.Y. minimum size. The RI almost quahog market instantly shifted from timeless historic taking bigger quahogs to one that was rabid for barely legal clams. This almost instantly directed the 3000 fishers to beds of tiny clams for two reasons, first and foremost because a bag of tiny count neck clams are five hundred to a bag, and the older straight run quahogs are two hundred fifty to a bag. Almost overnight the raping of baby quahog beds took place because you could now dump piles of small and baby quahogs on a one inch rack and screen to get the most barley legal quahogs for the New York ‘count system’ market. Before the count and rack system, each small clam would have to be passed through a ring, which made picking through a pile of tiny little necks not worth the effort because the number of pieces or ‘count’ that you caught didn’t matter because you were getting paid by the POUND!!!
By 1985 or so the historic buying of quahogs changed from buying them by the pound to buying them by the ‘piece’, or each individual clam. This led to effort shifting from a quahog economy based on bigger quahogs, to tiny count necks. A very important aspect of this change was the fact that almost all quahog buy shops had shucking rooms/houses for the bigger quahogs-the affordable food vs the money for expensive tiny clams. All of a sudden, small clams were worth moor than big clams. Outrageous and totally non nonsensical this was, which was perfect for the self-defeating underlying mentality of Rhode Island. Last I knew, RI had two certified shucking houses that produce food, and it has been that way for a very long time.
Again, the critics can take a long walk off a short dock on this one, because back in 2010 one of the best and most trust worthy, by far, quahoggers I have EVER met (having lived extensively on both sides on Narragansett Bay) confirmed the number one mismanagement reason for the destruction of the RI Quahog industry. Thjis was pointed out in the well researched and journalisticly formatted book Harvesting Bay, Fathers, Sons, and the Last of the Wild Shellfishermen, by Ray Huling.
That most bad ass, knowledgeable, open minded, and TRUSTWORTHY fisherman is Joey Amato. Joey is second generation quahogger, being the son of an old old school East Greenwich quahogging legend Junior, or ‘Junie’ Amato. Junie started fishing in the days of rowing out to quahog, so any critics can just start walking now. Junie reminds me of a mix between a sweet and bad ass Italian Godfather type that I lived among growing up in North Providence, RI, and a tribal fishing elder that I knew a lot of from living in Seattle, and working on the waterfront.
The number one reason for the destruction of the RI Quahog fishery, quoted from Joe Amato and Ray Huling in Harvesting the Bay; “That’s the second problem with the count standard:catching too many young quahogs. They know they have a bad incentive. There’s profit in depleting populations of juvenile clams. This is especially troublesome for quahogs, because, as is the wont of strange creatures such as the molluscae, most quahogs switch gender throughout their lifespan, and in a pattern that results in quahogs of roughly little neck size being 90 percent male. The count system’s a sort of plague on on firstborn sons, as the quahoggers are wiping out huge numbers of male quahogs that should have become female, which bodes ill for both reproduction and biodiversity”
“It’s not even a THIRD (2012) of the guys that were out there fifteen years ago” says Joey-and that’s just winter numbers. The same goes for the quahogs [little necks]. “You would think that with things having gone from about three thousand guys to about two hundred working everyday in the summer, there would be an abundance o’ quahogs (necks), but there isn’t.”
That’s right Joey-RIDEM’S thirty year Narragansett Bay Quahog management experiment was in every way, EXACTLY WHAT SHOULD HAVE NOT HAPPENED! THAT’S RIGHT, AGAIN!
The destruction of the RI Quahog industry was funded by the totally unaware RI citizen who put their trust in managing Narragansett Bay in the hands of the VERY wrong ‘experts’-the professes and pontiffs named above.
Stay tuned for revised versions of this story-Food or Money decision where RI went for the ‘money’, and is left with virtually no local healthy food from Narragansett Bay. THAT’S RIGHT!!!!!.
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This is one of the few AUTHORIZED photo’s of THE Saltiest Seaside Shanty in existence, and Free and Common is honored to host it!!!
The legend of THE Saltiest Seaside Shanty is-The shrunken skeleton of the starving RI Quahogger appears eerily in the top window on nights around every moon, asking for the Free and Common back, as well as any quahog ground that the management has taken over the years…a hauntingly familiar message it is…
Photo credit-Jim Russo
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