Monday, May 14, 2007

Oysters and Clams, and Where to Find Them on the Sound

It's my impression that there's more interest in shellfishing on Long Island Sound than there has been in a while. Norwalk has always been an oystering center, and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture's aquaculture bureau has worked for decades to help shellfishermen and to improve shellfish beds. But I see more and more stories in the local papers that indicate a growing interest in shellfishing, which might indicate a growing confidence that shellfishing is a proper and safe activity in the Sound.

The folks in Madison, for example, are trying to expand the town's clam beds to make recreational shellfishing easier, which is a great idea, here. And a man who hails from a line of shellfishermen in Greenwich just got a license to harvest clams from the area near the Westchester County border, here.

Alissa Dragan at the Connecticut aquaculture bureau sent me some statistics about shellfish beds in Connecticut's part of the Sound. In 1985 there were 310,000 acres of shellfish beds approved form unconditional harvesting. The number fell to 243,000 in 1990, to 135,000 last year, and to 134,000 this year. Over the same period, the number of conditionally approved beds went from 6,000 acres to 136,000 acres (conditionally approved means the beds are open or closed for harvesting depending on the conditions and the quality of the water, which changes mainly with the weather -- heavy rains mean more bacteria). Here's how Alissa explained the change in the number of acres:

...keep in mind that these changes in acreage, from 1985 to 1990 and 1990 to 2006, do not necessarily correspond to degraded water quality, or conversely to improved water quality. In addition to water quality, there are several other factors that have impacted the classification of Connecticut’s shellfishing grounds over the years. Standards by which areas were classified became more stringent. From 1988 to 1990, shellfishing areas in several towns were downgraded to comply with new growing area requirements. In order to meet the FDA requirements in all 26 shoreline towns, areas had to be prioritized based upon shellfish harvest activity due to a shortage of manpower. Over the years sampling became more frequent, and sampling locations increased, resulting in the revision of growing area classifications in towns for which there previously were no data. The Bureau also conducted shoreline surveys to identify actual and potential pollution sources further contributing to redefining areas. It is more accurate to say the classification changes shown in this historic data are the result of improved knowledge about the areas and the factors influencing them, and a changing regulatory climate.

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