Monday, April 17, 2006

Over the Weekend: Seaweed, Lobsters, Development Plans

The place we rented in New Canaan for 10 years, way out of town near the New York border, had been a farm, and as recently as the 1950s and 1960s had had a couple of dairy cows. The soil was rich and dark, and we put in a garden in a sunny spot at the top of an old field. We added manure and compost every year, but it really didn’t need much to grow beans, squash, carrots and parsnips, peas, basil, tomatoes.

The place we moved to in 2000 though is on the top of a hill, a clearing in the woods. The soil is thin and light brown, and although we’ve continued to add manure and compost, it still looks impoverished and the vegetable yield is an annual disappointment.

Which is not to say we’ve given up. Yesterday we drove to Bayley Beach, a tiny but beautiful spot in Rowayton, and after sitting in the sun for a while we took a 10-gallon pail and filled it three-quarters of the way with seaweed that we lifted out the shallows with sticks. Seaweed makes a good addition to the garden, I’ve heard, so back home I dumped the pail onto a mound of compost that’s about ready to be spread and mixed it in. Will it make a difference? Probably not. But whether it’s berries or clams or seaweed, we like the idea of gathering, of harvesting, and maybe the bounty of algae in Long Island Sound will help the bounty of tomatoes at home.

In the old days, farmers used to add fish and lobsters to the soil. Timothy Dwight described it after a trip from New Haven to Long Island a couple of centuries ago:

… they have swept the Sound, and covered their fields with the immense shoals of whitefish with which in the beginning of summer it waters are replenished. No manure is so cheap as this where the fish abound; none is so rich; and few are so lasting … the number caught is almost incredible. It is here said … that one hundred and fifty thousand have been taken at a single draft.

Dwight added that however good it was for the harvest, the fish manure was a problem for passers-by:

… their effluvia filled the atmosphere, and made our journey sufficiently unpleasant.

Nobody uses fish that way anymore, of course, nor lobster. In fact fishermen and biologists are still waiting for the lobster population to come back from the 1999 die off so they can be caught and used for for something more profitable.

In yesterday’s Stamford Advocate, John Nickerson reports that lobstermen are still hopeful but that scientists are scratching their heads about why the rebound is taking so long. He went out with a lobstering crew captained by Gary Olewnik from Norwalk on a boat called the Jennifer Lynn:

Basket after basket pulled up on Jennifer Lynn's gunwale contained few traps with any legal lobsters inside.

But the news wasn't all bad. For every legal lobster, four or five small ones were tossed back. After pulling four shorts out of one pot, Olewnik said he wasn't disappointed that so few lobsters could be taken.

But elsewhere in the story Nickrson writes:

Penny Howell, senior biologist in the DEP's Marine Fisheries Division Headquarters in Old Lyme, said she has been expecting the lobster population to grow, but it hasn't.

"The good news is (the number of lobsters) is not dropping . . . The bad news is, it hasn't improved," Howell said. "It is at historically low numbers. We hoped that six years after the die-off that the abundance of smaller animals would have improved."
The reasons for the fishery not improving are proving as perplexing as the die-off itself.

Howell said there is evidence in a recent Massachusetts lobster study suggesting that striped bass and other predatory fish moving into waters along the Northeast could be eating immature lobsters that weigh up to one-half pound. Lobstermen believe they are eating even bigger ones.

"Two years ago I would have confidently said that they will recover, but they have been held at low levels for so long, I honestly don't know," Howell said.

Development: Good, bad or who knows? Bridgeport has big hopes for redeveloping Steel Point, on the Sound. The Times points out that it has had big hopes for a lot of things for a long time, and few have worked out.

The new Friends of the Bay newsletter is available online. It has a long argument against the Avalon Bay housing proposal for the Oyster Bay hamlet, arguing that unless the proposal is part of a comprehensive smart growth plan for the hamlet, it’s not smart growth and shouldn’t be approved.

From Bayley Beach yesterday we could see Oyster Bay and Huntington Bay. There were few boats on the water but the day was clear enough that we could easily distinguish the bluffs on Lloyd Point, eight miles away.


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