The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) today announced that seasonal shellfish area closures will take effect at sunrise on Saturday, May 23, and will remain in place until Tuesday, October 13. Consistent with federal requirements, DEM closes some local waters to the harvesting of shellfish every year at this time due to potential water quality impacts associated with marinas and mooring fields. The areas are within:
o Bristol Harbor
o Dutch Harbor Area, Jamestown
o Fishing Cove, Wickford Harbor
o Great Salt Pond and Trims Pond, Block Island
o Potter Cove, Prudence Island
o Sakonnet Harbor, Little Compton
In addition, the smaller marina closures in the southern coastal ponds, Fort Wetherill, and the Kickemuit River in Warren will go into effect on May 23.
In a press release, DEM says that two changes are being made this year related to the classification of shellfishing grounds. The January seasonal closure of the Kickemuit River has been eliminated due to improvements in water quality. To the north and east of Gould Island, additional approved shellfishing waters are now available. Also, the closure area around Gould Island is being increased based on newer shoreline and in-water sediment data and site assessment work.
In 2018 DEM expressed hope about reopening a section of the lower Providence River as a new conditional area within a year. Such an action – which would allow for the harvest of shellfish from the Providence River for the first time in more than 70 years – is the result of water quality improvements from decades of intense efforts to clean up Providence River and Narragansett Bay, most notably improvements by the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) to reduce the discharge of combined sewer overflows.
DEM has continued work to finalize the details of a conditional area and drafting a prospective shellfish management plan to make that hope a reality. In 2019 and 2020 DEM met with the Shellfish Advisory Panel of the Marine Fisheries Council to discuss progress to date and to gather input. DEM is also working with shellfishers and NBC to schedule a quahog transplant, in which quahogs from this area would be harvested and relocated to provide breeding stock for other areas of the Bay, as well as providing a source of harvestable clams for later in the season. This relocation effort has been delayed in the interest of ensuring public safety related to COVID-19 concerns, but DEM and their partners are committed to conducting the transplant later this year.
Rhode Island shellfish are much sought-after seafood because of a long history of delivering a high-quality product. This is achieved by diligent monitoring of shellfish harvesting waters, protecting public health with a high level of oversight when conditions indicate a change in water quality either from natural sources such as algae blooms or by the quick response to emergency conditions. DEM, Rhode Island Department of Health, and the RI Coastal Resources Management Council along with industry partners collaborate to ensure that shellfish grown and harvested from RI waters continues to be a quality safe seafood product to be enjoyed by all consumers.
For information on emergency and conditional area shellfish closures, call DEM’s 24-hour shellfishing hotline at 401-222-2900 or sign up for our listserve here: RishellfishOWRfirstname.lastname@example.org.