A review of shellfish restoration and management projects in Rhode Island

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Shellfish management and restoration efforts in Rhode Island date back to the late 19th century. From the late 1890s to the Second World War the Rhode Island Fisheries Commission operated a lobster hatchery in Wickford Harbor in response to a perceived decline in lobster catches in Narragansett Bay. Berried lobsters were collected, eggs hatched, larvae reared, and postlarval fifth stage juveniles were released to the bay. The project was discontinued primarily because of costs and a failure to demonstrate the efficacy of juvenile seeding in improving lobster catches. From the 1930s to the 1980s, there have been several similar efforts to establish hatcheries to produce juvenile bivalve mollusks for public and private reseeding efforts, but none of these efforts were economically sustainable. The longest running efforts to improve shellfisheries have been state programs to relay northern quahogs, Mercenaria mercenaria, from dense population assemblages in waters closed to shellfishing. Large-scale relays began in the 1950s in response to heavy fishing pressure but ended in the 1960s when commercial power dredging for shellfish was banned in Narragansett Bay. A small-scale state program existing since the late 1970s pays a modest fee to supervised shellfishers for hand digging quahogs in closed waters and planting them in management areas for depuration and eventual harvest. The amounts of shellfish relayed annually has varied widely since 1977, ranging between 7 and 322 metric tonnes, with an average of 98 metric tonnes per year. A new relay program has been underway since 1997. It involves assessing the shellfish stocks in the closed Providence River and hiring dredge boats to relay shellfish into down bay management areas. Based on maximum sustainable yield (MSY) considerations, annual relays should not exceed 10.3% of the standing crop (or 2721 metric tonnes) in the Providence River. An effort to restore lobsters onto monitored artificial reefs is underway using settlement funds from a 1989 oil spill in Narragansett Bay. Finally, the Rhode Island Public Benefit Aquaculture Project, a joint educational effort with commercial fisheries involvement, is involving secondary level students in the nursery culture of shellfish (though marina-based upwellers) for seeding of public shellfish beds.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Journal of Shellfish Research