Sandwich Looks To Increase Its Shellfish Bounty

Leo Bedard of Sandwhich clams in Mill Creek.
Jeffrey Urquhart - Leo Bedard of Sandwhich clams in Mill Creek.

There are shellfish in Sandwich waters—and if the assistant director of natural resources has his way, there will be a lot more—including oysters, mussels, and soft-shell clams.

David J. DeConto, the assistant director, said the town’s recreational shellfishing program has been a success so far this season.

On December 29, the Sunday before last weekend’s storm roared in, 22 licensed residents were in the channel of Mill Creek, where, Mr. DeConto said, they pulled in their full limit of quahogs in record time.

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The residents were dipping into 300 bushels of quahogs in the section of the creek between the Sandwich Boardwalk and the Old Harbor entrance.

The quahogs previously existed as contaminated shellfish in the Acushnet River. Sandwich obtained the quahogs via the state.

The town placed the quahogs in its unpolluted creek system, which over time allowed the shellfish, which are filter feeders, to clean themselves out.

But seasonally transplanted quahogs are just part of Sandwich’s potential shellfish plan.

Mr. DeConto said the town also has started raising oysters in beds in the creek system. But he said he does not know when the town will be able to open a limited oyster fishery. At present, no harvesting of oysters is allowed in Sandwich waters.

The town also is exploring reviving mussels in the creek system.

When he was a youth, Mr. DeConto said, he could not slide barefoot from a boat into the creek without cutting his feet on the multitude of mussel shells below.

Then a huge die-off hit the creek’s mussel population. But now Mr. DeConto has started to see mussels here and there in the creek system.

To help revive the species, he is proposing hanging nets from the boardwalk into the water column on either side of the main flow.

The idea is that mussel spat could come along and attach to the net. The baby mussels then could be transferred to a mussel sanctuary farther back in the creek system.

Mr. DeConto said he also has learned that laboratory researchers at Salem State University are exploring how to re-establish populations of soft-shelled clams, also known as steamers. They exist in small numbers in a few areas of the creek, but Mr. DeConto would like to see more of them as another addition to the town’s recreational shellfish offerings.

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