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A game changer in shellfish management
By Jenny Pereira / October 13, 2015 /   Loading Disqus...

Shellfish are part and parcel of Rhode Island life. They provide food, recreation, and jobs, as well as a slew of environmental, social, and cultural benefits. The survival and vitality of both the wild harvest and aquaculture of shellfish rest on balancing the health of our marine environment and the complex needs of a wide-ranging group of stakeholders.

Major environmental issues affect the health and resiliency of the resource, from shellfish bed closures caused by pollution to ocean acidification caused by climate change. Questions like “Who may gather or grow shellfish? When and where may they do so?” often produce conflicting answers from both commercial and recreational sectors of the industry. The growth in aquaculture over recent years and a decline in the number of quahoggers entering the trade have created additional stresses.


This is where I belong. This is where I'm staying.

 – David Ghigliotti, RI Shellfisherman's Association


In 2012, Prospect Hill Foundation and the Rhode Island Foundation met with Janet Coit, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to talk about our state’s pressing environmental needs. Out of our conversation, the seed was planted for a consolidated effort to better manage our shellfish.

With initial funding from Prospect Hill, Rhode Island Foundation, and the Sharpe Family Foundation, a partnership among DEM, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), RI Sea Grant, the URI Coastal Institute, and the URI Coastal Resources Center (CRC) was formed. In January of 2013, led by CRC, the partnership embarked upon a comprehensive and public process to develop Rhode Island’s first multi-species statewide Shellfish Management Plan (SMP).

From the outset, stakeholder participation was at the core of the planning process. Clearly, it was time to include more collaboration and communication between all involved. CRC, highly skilled in community engagement and meaningful public participation, pulled together the entire shellfish community to craft the plan – state and federal agencies, the commercial wild harvest shellfish industry, the aquaculture industry, non-profit and citizen organizations, recreational harvesters, and the academic communities at URI and Roger Williams University. Every effort was made to ensure that all voices were heard – those of commercial quahoggers, oyster farmers, recreational diggers, habitat restoration experts, biologists and regulators.


Twin Shellfish on Apponaug Cove in Warwick is owned and operated by twin brothers Marty and Tim McGiveney. Shellfishermen themselves for over 25 years, they catch their own product as well as buying direct from more than twenty other shellfisherman on Narragansett Bay.

Two years in the making, with continued philanthropic support (additional support the second year came from the van Beuren Foundation and the Rykat Fund), the Shellfish Management Plan already has a long list of both large and small accomplishments to applaud: More time for fishermen to work without compromising water quality concerns; reform and re-organization of shellfish and aquaculture regulations, making the rules sensible and comprehensible; supporting shellfish research; working to improve the bottom line for shellfishermen and growers; sharing authority where it makes sense; ensuring that teamwork is involved in evaluating practices.

We set out to write a plan, but we actually got a lot done along the way.

                         –– Janet Coit, RI DEM Director


It’s hard to debate the economic value that shellfish harvesting and aquaculture provide for Rhode Island. But there is another dimension that cannot be measured in dollars and cents: Rhode Islanders’ close relationship to shellfish and the sea. “Digging a quahog or picking mussels off a rock is a really special part of being a Rhode Islander,” says DEM director Janet Coit.

“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.”


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