Archive for the 'Clamming' Category

May 21 2014

Appeals Court ruling favors Mashpee oyster farmer |

Published by under Clamming

Appeals Court ruling favors Mashpee oyster farmer |

Sean Driscoll in the Cape Cod Times reports today that the Popponesset oyster farm application approval has been upheld in court. This doesn’t clear the way for the applicant, Richard Cook, to start operations. Oh no. The greedhead property owners fighting him can appeal to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Judicial Court (which their bottomless pockets almost guarantees they will, at taxpayer expense to defend I might add). According to the Times the property owners have another suit pending against Mashpee’s ZBA and building commissioner.

The court stated the homeowners’ claim that the Cape Cod Commission must review the project because it is a commercial development was incorrect. The commission’s regulations include neither agriculture nor aquaculture in its definitions of a commercial project, the court stated.

The Appeals Court also found myriad other issues raised by the homeowners to be without merit, including claims that Cook had failed to adequately address the safety concerns of his gear potentially washing away in a storm and that the Conservation Commission reached its decision without enough deliberation or consideration.”

One response so far

May 06 2014

The Greedheads of Popponesset Bay

Published by under Cape Cod,Clamming,WTF?

House leaders tucked a controversial and little noticed item into the budget – Metro – The Boston Globe.

Today the Globe published a jaw dropping story out of Mashpee. Read it. I am almost too pissed off to type. I am so pissed off I shouldn’t type but when I heard about it on a Boston public radio talk show  during a drive to Boston today I did something I’ve never done before and I actually called and vented (my venting begins around 1:09) like that old guy at town meeting who rants about how the fluoride in the water is causing him to have erectile dysfunction and who smells a little bit like pee in his dirty cardigan and who writes long letters to the editor.

Here’s the sordid tale of midnight legislation snuck in the back door on behalf of the rich and mighty. It’s the latest in a saga I’ve been blogging about for a while now.

So there’s been an ongoing stink for the past couple of years in Mashpee as a bunch of  waterfront-owning McMansion-squatting greedheads have filed lawsuit after lawsuit to block a commercial oyster grower named Richard Cook from turning a two-acre stretch of Popponesset Bay into an oyster farm. The town, the state, the courts — all have given the guy the go ahead, but in a classic piece of scumbaggery by a hack State Rep from Newburyport (easily 100 miles away from Mashpee) an amendment was tacked onto the state budget last week that would declare a “marine sanctuary” not in Mashpee specifically, not even on Cape Cod to read the amendment, but at some undisclosed location defined by frigging GPS coordinates. The coward didn’t have the spine to actually name the town — he thought he could cloak it with some frigging latitude and longitude numbers. I’m sure it was an honest mistake. Here’s the offending amendment.

And the crowning indignant play by the esteemed Representative Michael Costello is that he further lacked the balls and courtesy to tell the Cape Cod delegation who were actually elected to represent Mashpee — State Senator Dan Wolf and State Rep David Vieira — that he was dropping the little turd of an amendment affecting their districts onto the budget. Thank god the Globe got curious and punched the numbers into Google Maps. (Thanks to reader Aaron Welles for checking the numbers in Google Earth and sending this screen shot below)

Costello was recruited to do the deed by ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin, the pettifoggers who represent the abutters who live along the shore where Cook’s submerged farm would go.

Costello claims he did it for the environment. Who he did it for was a bunch of pricks who include the owner of the New England Patriots. Who wants to bet Costello gets spotted quaffing a frosty Sam Adams in the owner’s box with Gisele at Foxboro Stadium this fall?  What Costello really did when he committed his ethical breach was try to preserve a million-dollar waterfront view, a great view indeed — across the bay at Cotuit’s pristine Ryefield Point courtesy of the Barnstable Land Trust.

Stand in Cotuit and look back at them and what you see looks like a row of tacky beached ocean liners, lit up to beat the band, their chemical lawns, big piers and cesspools poisoning the very bay this guy’s oysters might actually help clean up.

These people have no souls. None. They remind me of the time as a Cape Cod Times reporter covering the waterfront when I watched in amazement as a Lily Pulitzer-wearing ehisshewle of a grand dame (btw: great job missing this story Cape Cod Times, yet again the Globe has kicked your butt in your own back yard) tell a Barnstable shellfish committee in 1980 that commercial quahoggers in Osterville’s Eel River were a blight on her view and worked close enough to her house that she could “hit them with a nine-iron shot.” She wasn’t the last of the Littoral Leeches. Then the Ostervillians of Imposterville went after the aquaculture guys in West Bay for daring to float bags of seed oysters in front of their houses. “A menace to navigation!” They lost that fight too.

If I only possessed a Mashpee clamming license I would do my level best to invite all my clammer friends to join me in sitting on these jerks’ beach on Popponesset Bay every afternoon around cocktail hour in front of their guests (in a pink Speedo of course) and dig their goddamn clams.  I would fish nowhere else. I would fowl nowhere else. I would do everything in my power to get that now sad but familiar sight of some poor policeman trudging down the sand in his brogans, towards me, telling me, “Please buddy. I know what the law says, but can you just do this someplace else? Please?”

I used to say “yes, sure, don’t want to cause a problem.” But never again. Take back the beaches and give Mashpee back to the original wampum tycoons, the Wampanoags. They at least took decent care of the place and appreciated a fine oyster.

Cook said it all to the Globe:

“All the way along through the process, I’ve done what the agencies and regulators have asked me to do in filing for permits and et cetera,” said Cook. “And I don’t understand how at this point someone can come in the back door from off-Cape and without any knowledge of local authority and residents, try and create something like this in order to stop my proposal from moving forward.”

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Apr 21 2014

Getting underway

I launched the motorboat yesterday afternoon after two weeks of working on it in the middle of the yard. Some years the boat manages to go in early, other years it goes in late. This year was late because of the winter-that-wouldn’t-end. Some years the boat needs multiple visits to the mechanic, other years I get her running on my own. This year I tackled a few overdue projects and one nasty recurring problem which required a sledgehammer. As my Cousin Pete (who lives across the street in the western half of the Chatfield family compound) likes to to say, watching a Churbuck with an internal combustion engine (lawnmower, pressure washer, automobile, chainsaw, outboard motor) is like watching a monkey with a hand grenade. I know he likes to sit on his front porch with a cocktail and laugh at my best efforts to destroy anything that lives on gasoline and I am sure he noted my application of a sledge hammer to my Honda 40 horsepower outboard for future retelling.

Back in March, in a fit of optimism, I dragged the boat out from behind the garage, cut off the useless blue tarp that collapsed during the first snow storm, noted that the trailer’s ten year-old tires are still hanging in there (which is good because the wheels are rusted onto the axles forever), and started the familiar recommissioning process which is becoming second nature now that the boat is twenty-two years old and on engine #3.


The calm before the failure

The battery went onto the charger.  I grabbed a broom and swept out the sticks and leaves, sand and shells, dragged out the clam rakes and baskets, and winced at the beard of dried slime along the waterline and the crust of barnacles on the keelson — proof I didn’t do much of a job last fall when I yanked the boat for the season. I had a feeling my neglect would mean the boat would bone me so I drove up to see Dow Clark, my mechanic and asked him if he could tune things up. He pointed out that there was a blizzard coming (this was last month), and he wouldn’t work on the boat if the temperatures went below freezing because he needed to run a hose through through engine’s water intakes in the parking lot and didn’t want to turn it into a skating rink for the other tenants in the little row of garages behind Peck’s and the Domino’s Pizza place.

The blizzard came and went, I returned to the boat (glad I hadn’t launched her in time for an evening of 60 mph gusts out of the north), replaced the battery, and lowered the engine. The first boat problem of 2014 emerged immediately: the steering was frozen, a common occurrence which meant the push rod system that pushed and pulled the motor on the transom was seized. Inside I went to Google and YouTube, read about the problem, watched about a dozen different possible solutions, and returned armed with a propane torch, a hacksaw, a length of rebar, a cold chisel, a ball-peen hammer, a mason’s hammer, a grease gun, and a spray can of white lithium grease, another can of “PB Blaster, and finally, a can of carburetor cleaner. I disconnected the motor from the steering assembly, got rid of all nearby gasoline, lit the torch, and started heating the steering tube. For the next six hours I feebly tapped at the end of the stainless steel ram with the hammer, tried a 2″x4” lever, reapplied heat, sprayed various fluids, and finally, in a fit of total despair and destruction, broke out a sledgehammer and started whaling away at the end of the pernicious steering gear.

That did it. If it is stuck, whack it. A couple applications of the precision tool and the ram started to budge a tiny bit with every smack. I finally drove the thing all the way into the tube, then continued the brutal repair with a piece of rebar, clocking my knuckles so hard when the sledgehammer missed that I was convinced I’d broken my hand.  After countless attacks on the piece of precision Japanese machinery, the steering ram popped out and I performed a little Dave Dance of Happiness on the brown lawn. I reamed out the tube with brushes and carburetor cleaner, cleaned the ram piston off and regreased it, then reassembled the whole mess until the steering wheel spun back and forth with silken, greased ease. Success. I spared myself a new $125 steering cable and a trip to the mechanic.

A past winter launching which ended in a rescue after water in the gas killed the expedition.

A past winter launching which ended in a rescue after water in the gas killed the expedition.

Then to the greasy manual for a refresher in changing the engine oil and lower unit lube. I siphoned whatever water I could find out of last year’s gas and drained the fuel lines, changed the fuel-water separator, and tightened the drain holes on the three carb bowls. New spark plugs followed, a change in the fuel filter and I was ready to test it. Professional mechanics use these “headphone” sort of clamps that attach to the water intake of the motor and then run a hose through them so they can work the running motor on dry land. The last time I did that I melted the water pump. This year I hooked the trailer up to the car and drove the boat down Old Shore Road  and backed the trailer in deep enough to lower the motor without launching the boat (I have learned that launching prematurely always means the boat will not start and will need to be paddled back to the trailer, winched back on, and taken up to Dow Clark two miles inland on a trailer with no lights and an expired registration that is one flake of rust away from collapsing.

I climbed aboard, lowered the motor, inserted the key, said a prayer, and started cranking. It astarted after 15 seconds, a feeble, barely combusting ignition that I nursed to life like a freezing man lighting a fire in a Jack London story. I let it strangle and shudder, then dared to give it a bit more gas, let go of the choke and it LIVED! Do another Dave Dance of happiness, feel like a master mechanic.

I let it run for 15 minutes on the trailer, relishing the opportunity to hog the entire boat ramp by myself on a Saturday afternoon ; a ramp that in three months would have a line of impatient boaters waiting for their turn to launch or haul their boats while some ass clown clogged things up by deciding to clean his Bayliner while everyone waited and honked their horn. The off-season in Cotuit is the season of the Townie Prerogative: when those of us stupid enough to live here from January to April get to put out our dinghies on the prime spots, get to hog boat ramps for as long as we want, drive fast in areas of the harbor usually confined to 6 mph, and then clam in places that get closed on May 1.

I let the motor run for a quarter hour because the second rule of Churbuck Outboard Failure is that a motor that runs well near the beach will fail as soon as it is about 500 feet away from the beach — generally because of water in the system, or a failed water pump that sets off the dreaded alarm sound which means a $500 repair bill is coming soon. A sub-rule of Churbuck Outboard Failure is that failure in the off-season means there aren’t any other boaters around to come to one’s rescue and the possibility of being stranded and having to swim in 40 degree water is very real. These are the lessons learned over 22 Cape Cod Springs, proof that wisdom is nothing more than the accrual of repeated failures.

I resisted the temptation to back off of the trailer and bomb around the bay. The bottom was unpainted and there was more work to do. Driving an unpainted boat would definitely draw the curses of the Gods of Maritime Failure and I only get superstitious when I am on the water.

Back to the yard and then off to the marine supply store for the annual BOHICA* (nothing will trash a bank balance faster than a can of bottom paint or any sort of marine hardware). The harbormaster nearly wrote me a ticket last August for being on the water without navigation lights.  I had to invest in a new sternlight and green-and-red bow light, wire, connectors, switches, etc.. Back to the boat and my favorite liquid after a smoky peaty single malt scotch — Hull Cleaner — an evil solution that is swabbed around the waterline of the white hull which turns brown over the course of a summer like a smoker’s lungs. Hull cleaner must be washed off, so down into the cistern under the grape arbor I go — through a manhole cover into a dank dirt floor chamber under the birdfeeders to turn back on the outdoor faucets. Then back into daylight in search of the hoses, replacing washers and finding a working nozzle while the birds act inconvenienced because I dare interrupt their springtime binge diet.

Hull Cleaner magically bleaches everything  away like a blessing from the Pope, but it also eats into the trailer’s galvanized frame one whiff of the stuff and the disconcerting sensation of burning lungs makes me believe it is an evil fluods. I hose it off, get the bottom wet, and drag my 55-year old ass under the boat with a scrub brush and scraper to vanquish 2013’s barnacles and slime. This results in my being crippled later in the evening, forced to lay on my back on the floor while watching 60 Minutes and moaning that I have strapping sons who should be crawling under boats on wet grass littered with stinky evicted barnacles.

The next day my son thoughtfully volunteered to crawl under the boat wearing a set of disposable Tyvek overalls to paint the bottom with antifouling paint while I masking-taped the boot top line. When we were done the boat looked about as good as it did the day in 1992 when I picked it up from the builder in Vineyard Haven (the best $7500 I have spent in my life).

The wiring of the lights was a sobering reminder that I am a terrible electrician. My first attempt succeeded in turning the new lights on, but my mis-wiring also  turned the circuit into one big electric stove top that started to turn red, smoke and melt the plastic insulation off of the wire. Back to the Internet for assistance, but finally I figured out enough 12V electrical wiring theory to get the job done correctly.

By this point in time it is noon on Easter Sunday. Easter dinner starts at four pm. I look for volunteers to join me for the maiden voyage and a  quick clamming expedition to secure enough littlenecks for appetizers. No takers, everyone is occupied with deviled egg construction. So I break out the new waders, find the VHF radio, cellphone, clam license, buckets, oarlocks, oars, temporary mooring float, throw it all into the boat, insert the drain plugs, connect the gas tank, back up the trailer hitch, and off I go under bluebird skies and a nice spring day.

The boat started on the first try. I backed off the trailer, brought the boat into the beach and left it there while I parked the trailer on the side of Old Shore Road. Back to the boat, off the beach, restart, back away and head for the winter stick that marks my mooring near the yacht club’s beach to tie on a temporary painter until the mooring guy can get out there and swap the wooden winter stick for the regular rode.

The alarm horn goes off just as I pull up to the mooring. SHIT! Off with the engine before heinous amounts of destruction occur. I tie the boat onto the winter stick before addressing yet another spring launching spoiled by Honda. I turn it back on. No alarm. I note the engine “pisser” is not squirting water. Proof the water pump isn’t work. Off with the engine, find the hidden paper clip, tilt up the engine, and ream out the little piss-port under engine cover. Restart, long satisfying stream of pee and no alarm horn.

I headed off to Sampson’s Island to clam, and opened up the engine all the way as I skipped across the chop of Cotuit Bay, the wind chill plummeting the temperature and bringing wind blown tears to my eyes. No alarm horns No surges in power as the carbs drink in water. Just a well working boat on a sunny day. One month of weekends and one boat is in the water in time for the first stripers, squid and bluefish. Now to start on the big sailboat and another month of messing around.



*Bend Over Here It Comes Again

2 responses so far

Apr 19 2014

Fencing Clams

Published by under Cape Cod,Clamming

The Cape Cod Clam Caper appears to have been solved. A spate of thefts last year  from commercial and municipal oyster grants from Dennis to Marstons Mills meant someone was stealing tens of thousands of clams and finding a way to fence them.  Which meant someone was selling the public “transfer” clams being grown in polluted water before their transfer and cleansing.

Now comes the sad news that one familiar Upper Cape institution, Joe’s Lobster Mart in Sandwich, on the bulkhead of the Cape Cod Canal allegedly bought the clams from the alleged clam pirate, one Michael Bryant, 38.

The owner of Joe’s, Joe Vaudo, has run the place for the past four decades  (I am an occasional customer) and is chairman of the Sandwich Planning Board. He’s been fined and is at risk of losing his lease from the Army Corps of Engineers who manages the canal.

Here’s an article about the case.

More reasons to dig your own shellfish.

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Apr 07 2014


Published by under Clamming,Cotuit

Every place has its native culinary specialties. Buffalo, New York has beef on weck; Cincinnati was five-way chili; New Orleans the Po-boy; North Carolina the pulled pork barbecue sandwich with coleslaw, and on and on and on. Turn on a food channel and there will be some overenthused fat guy on a culinary tour of the backwaters looking for the regional speciality.

Stuffed quahogs from Marguerite’s in Westport – taken from

Yet what of Cape Cod? What are the classic items that every tourist should seek out? Frankly the place isn’t famous for much — certainly not on the level of a Philly cheesesteak — and even within Massachusetts there are foods that get mixed up with Cape Cod but which aren’t really Cape Cod born. Take the fried clam for example — that’s a North Shore/Essex County speciality born in Essex at Woodman’s where in 1914 Chubby Woodman fried some soft-shelled “steamer” clams in batter at the suggestion of a customer. Sure, one can obsess about the best fried clams and search the Cape for the best examples (personally I used to favor Sandy’s in Buzzards Bay, but crave the ones from The Bite in Menemsha, even if you have to own a hedge fund to afford them).

Clam chowder is pretty Cape Cod, but apparently the dish came down from French-Canada and the word is derived from “chaudière” after the stove the stuff was cooked on in the Maritime Provinces. They serve Legal Seafood’s chowder at Fenway Park — frankly a kind of disgusting thought on a steamy humid day when a guy comes trooping up the stairs in the bleachers hawking what is essentially clam-flavored hot milk thickened with corn starch or flour. No one makes the clam chowder I grew up with, but if you want a sense of it, read Melville’s account of Ishmael’s dinner at the Spouter Inn in New Bedford.

One very Cape Cod dish is Portuguese kale soup, especially around East Falmouth where there is a big population of Cape Verdeans, Azoreans, and other descendants of the Portuguese sailors who settled on the Cape after sailing on New England whalers in the mid-19th century. Take chicken broth, a lot of torn up kale (the miracle food of the paleo-Hipster movement), some kidney beans, diced potatoes, sliced chorizo and you have a bowl of goodness.

If I had to nominate one dish as the official Cape Cod specialty I would have to go with the stuffed quahog, also known as the “Stuffie.”

Take big quahogs — the bigger the better, like ashtray sized monsters — grind up all the meat and clam juice and mix with some sort of bread crumbs, diced onion, celery and whatever feels right, mix into a filling like a turkey stuffing, pack into the open shells and bake until golden brown. The restaurants serve them with a pat of butter, a lemon wedge, and a bottle of tabasco.

Stuffed quahogs are big among Cotuit cooks for bragging rights. My step-sister, mother, aunts, brother-in-law …. everyone has their own take on the stuffie. Green bell peppers? Maybe red pepper flakes? There is no great restaurant stuffed quahog. Most bars that serve them as bar food get premade ones from New Bedford — nasty, very processed pasty things with no big clam chunks. Do not confuse a stuffie with Clams Casino — different thing altogether.

I confess I like a homemade Cotuit stuffed quahog, and even will go with a mass produced ones if I’m at the right bar and want something to go with a beer. My favorite recipe — which is total heresy because it is “gourmet” to some critical palates– is Chris Schlesinger’s “Ultimate Stuffie” from the Back Eddy in Westport. These suckers have ground Portuguese sausage, a ton of sage and oregano, and kernels of corn. I discovered the recipe in The New England Clam Shack Cookbook, (probably one of my most used books on my kitchen bookshelf.)



4 responses so far

Jan 29 2014

Oyster theft case cracked

Published by under Cape Cod,Clamming

Jack London popularized the phenomenon known as Oyster Piracy in his early writings about life on San Francisco Bay at the turn of the 20th century, and the term has always conjured up some romantic vision of stealthy clammers plundering an oyster bed with muffled oars under the darkness of a new moon. Sadly, the practice has hit Cape Cod’s commercial oyster farms from the Marstons Mills River across to the northside of the Cape from Barnstable to Dennis. The total losses are estimated at $40,000, rewards have been posted, stakeouts and security cameras have yielded nothing, but according to the Cape Cod Times, a culprit has been identified and being reviewed by a grand jury.

“Police say they know who stole more than $40,000 in oysters and equipment from beds in East Dennis and Barnstable last summer, but they’re not quite ready to publicly name the culprit.

Barnstable police Lt. Sean Balcom, who heads the Barnstable Street Crime Unit, called the anticipated end of the five-month investigation by multiple public safety agencies “the result of police work and the rewards” that were offered. The street crime unit was tipped to the identity of the poacher by one of its informants, Balcom said.”

Anyone who has ordered a plate of oysters in a restaurant knows how much these things sell for. While I don’t know what the market price is, I wonder who bought the “hot” clams. Is there a “clam fence” somewhere on the Cape? Whoever ripped off the oysters from the Mills River was selling pretty nasty clams that usually get relayed to cleaner water before they are safe to eat. A little hepatitis or vibro anyone?

Cape Cod Times article

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Aug 13 2013

Oyster Pirates of Cape Cod

Published by under Cape Cod,Clamming

Someone in Barnstable has been stealing dirty oysters.

In late July a thief or thieves hit the town of Barnstable’s oyster farm up inside of Prince’s Cove: pretty much one of the foulest bodies of water one can imagine. They made off with 3,000 clams, doubtlessly for resale, and I pity the alimentary canals of the poor unsuspecting oyster eaters who down one of them. The town’s Department of Natural Resources grows the clams from seed and then transfers them to cleaner water so the recreational clamming permit holders can harvest them at their leisure after an appropriate amount of cleansing time (I deride this practice as “grocery shopping” as one basically puts on waders and picks up clams from the bottom, but hey, a clam is a clam and oysters are awesome water filters)

According to news reports, the oysters were valued at a buck a piece, so this was a pretty significant theft. I don’t know how any reputable fish market handles the provenance of oysters brought in by the commercial aquaculturists, but someone, somewhere probably tried to fence them. This wasn’t the first theft reported this summer. Someone hit an aquaculture grant on the northside in Dennis earlier.

Oyster theft and piracy is a long standing crime. Jack London wrote about the oyster pirates of San Francisco Bay in the 19th century. The Chesapeake Bay area was the scene of some piracy as well.

Waterfront crime has been an issue in the Three Bays area of Cotuit for sometime now. The Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club’s gas tanks have been ripped off a couple times this summer and the town has set up some web cams at the Cotuit Town Dock (which make me homesick when I’m sitting in midtown Manhattan on a bright summer day).

thanks to Tom Burgess for the tip

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Jan 10 2013

Winter Clamming and Lowell’s Point

On my late morning stroll to the Town Dock with the dog, leaning into a strong southerly breeze that felt like a Swiss foehn, I saw a clutch of clammers working the shallows off of Lowell (or is it Lowell’s?) Point. Being a Tuesday, it is either a bunch of commercial quahoggers or the volunteers from the Barnstable Association for Recreational Shellfishing performing one of their relay projects.  Recreational clammers like yours truly are permitted to clam on Wednesday and weekends, while the commercial license holders get the other days (and sometimes clam off their personal recreational licenses on their off days).

Relays are the process where clams are harvested from polluted waters — usually up high in the estuary where the tidal flushing is very slow and the nasty bacteria make the clams inedible — and relayed to clean beds near points of public access, or Town Ways to Water. This is back breaking work, performed by volunteers from BARS under the supervision of the town’s Department of Natural Resources. Relays in Cotuit are located at Handy’s Point, Cordwood Landing, Lowell’s and in the cove behind Uenoyama’s and the lane behind the Stucco Cottage at the corner of Oceanview Avenue and Main Street.

The clams clean themselves out after a few months, during which time the relay area is closed. Most of the relay beds local to Cotuit are accessible by foot. I don’t know of any around Dead Neck/Sampsons Island.

Apparently some commercial clammers hit the Lowell Point bed pretty hard last year, hard enough that complaints were made and fingers are being pointed at some Wampanoags clammers. I saw them at it last year — they seemed like nice enough, hardworking guys and I assumed they were Wampanoags because they had a tribal bumpersticker on their pickup truck — but now there is a sign on the beach saying the beds are closed to commercial clammers. The volunteers who broke their backs relaying the quahogs are upset, the town is considering changes to its regulations to stop the commercials from hoovering up clams, and talks are underway with the Mashpee shellfish warden to see if it can be stopped from happening again.

The issue of native American fishing rights is an interesting one that has been played out in the courts over the years.  The issue comes down to the sovereign riparian rights of a recognized member of the tribe to fish and hunt without license or regard to the regulations of whatever town they clam in.

The issue has been in the courts before. In 1984 a precedent was set in [Commonwealth v. Hendricks, et al., Barnstable D. Ct. No. 84-3415]. Quoting a page on Wampanoag fishing rights hosted at the University of Massachusetts:

“A court decision in October, 1984, [Commonwealth v. Hendricks, et al., Barnstable D. Ct. No. 84-3415] had decided in favor of Wampanoag Indians’ rights to hunt and fish, holding specifically that the Wampanoag have the right to hunt and fish in order to sustain themselves, without obtaining any permits from the towns or the state. That decision became the basis for a consensus among Wampanoag people and most law enforcement agencies not to interfere with Wampanoag fishing and hunting.”

The 1984 ruling was tested when two Wampanoag clammers were fined for clamming on a “closed day” in Bourne. They were fined $50 but appealed, their case making it to the state supreme court where their “aboriginal” rights were upheld.

The situation is murky in the case of this recent contretemps due to the alleged commercial interest of the Wampanoags and whether or not “sustain” as quoted above applies to the harvesting of shellfish for resale. The Cotuit-Santuit Civic Association discussed the issue at their December board meeting:

Tom Burgess noted that he had been contacted by State Senator Dan Wolf’s office concerning alleged over-harvesting of relay shellfish.  This was in response to letters written to the Governor, State legislators for our district and the Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council.  The Senator’s office will contact Kris Clark, the Mashpee Shellfish administrator, The Tribal Chairman, and former congressman Bill Delahunt, who works with the tribe to try to open up a dialogue on this concern.  Meanwhile the Town of Barnstable may be exploring legal avenues to establish relay areas as Town owned grants, so Jessica Rapp Grassetti mentioned.”

Declaring the relay areas “grants” is akin to fencing off a section of public property for private use — aquaculture grants abound on Cape Cod — there are at least three in the Three Bays complex, some very old such as the Cotuit Oyster Company’s.  I suppose by calling the relay beds “grants” then the town could impose a different set of regulations. Anyway, nothing like a clamming controversy to help pass a Cape Cod winter.

On a related note regarding the  Dead Neck dredging proposals. I didn’t make the Conservation Commission hearing on Tuesday but watched a replay via the town’s website. I’d say the Three Bays Preservation/Mass Audubon application is in for a hard fight — this is not a popular project gauging from the public comments, which ranged from socio-economic concerns to some interesting biological/habitat preservation policy issues. Shellfish are a big concern as past dredging projects have had a negative impact with water borne sediment gunking up the bed, especially in West Bay. One commercial shellfisherman from Cotuit arrived at town hall with a five-gallon bucket and pulled out a nasty blob of slimy algae he attributed to the recent dredging around Cotuit’s Town Dock. I know exactly the slime he’s talking about — it’s pretty much everywhere and another harbinger of a dead harbor but I don’t know if I would tie it to the dredging.

And on an unrelated note — Lowell Point has the remains of an old concrete seawall in front of it which has broken apart, revealing some iron rebar rods that have corroded into nasty sharp points.  I have nightmares about stepping on one of those fangs. The armoring of the bluff with rock has also resulted in a lot of small, “non-native” sharp rock, to scatter over what was once a nice sandy beach. In general the entire beach front is a mess — partially due to erosion, but also past construction sins. If the town wants to declare the place an important shell fish grant/relay zone t should think about a restoration project as it gets more and more use as time goes by.

Final digression: It’s called “Lowell’s Point” after Abbot Lawrence Lowell, the late president of Harvard who lived in the grand mansard roofed (now covered perpetually by blue tarps) mansion  on the bluff above. It has the best views in Cotuit in my opinion and should be bought by the town and turned into a park as the current owners seem to be content to let the place sink into decrepitude. He was pals with my great-great grandfather, encouraged him to write his reminiscences, and even had his secretary type up the manuscript. He was also on an advisory committee appointed by the governor to review the Sacco-Vanzetti case, a role that according to Wikipedia “dogged him for the rest of his life.”



3 responses so far

Dec 11 2012

The Big Dig of Cotuit is Coming

Word is circulating around the village of an application by Three Bays Preservation and the Massachusetts Audubon Society to dredge away a big piece of the western, Cotuit end of Sampson’s Island and pump the spoil back to the eastern, Osterville end of the barrier island. While details were sparse and everything was hearsay when my source phoned to see if I had any specifics, an email to Three Bays Executive Director Lindsay Counsell  cleared things up.

LGCotuit1952 copy (1)(click the image for a sense of how wide the Cotuit channel was in the 1950s)

The application will go before the Barnstable Conservation Commission on January 8. It’s available along with detailed engineering plans and maps  at the Three Bays website. Here is a link to the specific project application.

Counsell wrote to me:

“Three Bays and Mass Audubon are proposing to dredge the end of Sampson’s Island and we both will be presenting the project at the Jan. 8th Con Comm hearing.  The footprint of the work area is 11 acres and the material will primarily be transported easterly to Dead Neck, with several areas on the beach nourished for coastal waterbird nesting habitat and a recreational beach segment is also proposed.  This channel area to be altered comprises the original permitted dredge footprint that has been maintained previously since the before the1940’s and it is for that reason we are seeking renewal of those permits.  This project proposes to back pass the sand easterly from its origin and close the loop on the local littoral drift cut off in 1900 by the creation of the West Bay Cut.

This is a joint application of the two owners of the island and we are going forward based on the need to rebuild Dead Neck with material that has drifted down shore to Sampson’s Island.  The island’s bird nesting habitat is almost completely gone through erosion and vegetation infill and active construction and maintenance thereof is the only feasible method to recreate those areas.  Other interests the project serves are storm damage protection, navigation, public safety and to a lesser extent water quality improvement.”

 Three Bays came to Cotuit a couple summers ago to drum up support and raise money for the project. I wasn’t able to attend, but understand from some friends who did go that the pitch met with some skepticism — some Cotusions reacted that the plan sounded like a plan to take their money and “their” sand to fund a beach replenishment project for the other, Osterville-end of the island. Three Bays is (and has long been) a big advocate of dredging as a way to improve the flushing of the stagnant, overly fertilized water high in the estuary. This isn’t dredging for the sake of improving navigation and making the channels deeper so bigger boats can enter and exit the bay. This is about opening things up so the sclerotic system can purge itself faster with the tides.

This isn’t the first time Three Bays has dredged to improve circulation. The last came about decade ago and did indeed improve the internal channel system and put a lot of sand back on the beach near the Wianno Cut — the man-made entrance to Osterville’s West Bay.

The spit is thinnest there and despite several expensive projects to build the beach back up — including one crazy privately funded endeavor that used a helicopter to ferry hopper after hopper of sand from inside the island to the outside beach — it remains the most likely spot for a beach breach during some future storm. Three Bay’s application predicts a breach of the beach within five to seven years, exposing the Seapuit River behind the island to the full flow and force of Nantucket Sound.

Piping 11 acres of sand, grass and mud from one end to the other will definitely shore things up, and will solve the growing encroachment of the western end of the spit into the main Cotuit Bay channel. Old photos and postcards taken in the 50s and 60s from Cotuit’s Loop Beach on Nantucket Sound looking inland, towards the island, show a very wide channel with the point of the island back at last a quarter mile from where it is today.  The gap was once so large that a person standing at Loop could look to the northeast and see nothing but water all the way inside to Oyster Harbors/Grand Island.

This project would give Sampson’s a serious trimming. Here is a detail of the plan showing the proposed cut line as well as some of the areas due to receive new sand. Click the thumbnail for a bigger view.

The sand would be pumped to a few spots on both the inside and outside (Nantucket Sound) sides of the island.

The project is an attempt to patch the damage did at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries when the Wianno Cut was dug through Dead Neck (“Neck” being a Cape Cod geological term referring to a sandspit that attaches to the mainland). At that time Dead Neck ran west from Osterville, in front of Oyster Harbors, and behind it, to the north, ran the Seapuit River, then the only channel draining Osterville’s West Bay. Sampson’s Island lay to the west, separate from Dead Neck.

The Cut project was opposed by the residents of Cotuit, including my great-great-grandfather, who led the opposition to the dredging on the grounds it would disrupt the natural flow of the estuary. The commercial interests in Osterville prevailed. The boat building industry at Crosby’s doubtlessly needed better navigational access and Cotuit at the time was a busy commercial port serving Nantucket with firewood, freight and the mail. Two stone breakwaters, or jetties were built on each side of the Cut by the state and they are the reason more than 100 years later dredges and helicopters are needed to restore the natural equilibrium of sand nourishment along the beach. In essence the jetties blocked that sand, trashed the natural equilibrium, and the result is a drastically changed landscape.

I think it is safe to say that no one is proposing to dismantle the jetties and plug the Cut. Instead we’re faced with chewing off 144,000 cubic yards of sand, mud, grass and clams and blowing them through pipes onto the starved sections. Given the sad fact that recent dredging has proved to be a bit of a Sisyphean battle, with one project’s efforts getting washed away by the next big storm or two, this one is not going to be a definitive solution and will buy a decade perhaps of protection to the nice houses behind the eastern end of the beach.

I’ll anticipate the oppositions’ and the proponents’ arguments then weigh in with my own opinion:


  • Don’t mess with nature and let things take their course. Let the island breach.
  • Don’t cut down the copse of mature trees and shrubs to the east of Cupid’s Cove that is proposed on the dredge map -probably by Massachusetts Audubon (co-owner of the island along with Three Bays) — for “predator management. Dead Neck/Sampson’s Island is a key bird sanctuary in the Mass Aubudon system of refuges, especially for Arctic and Least Terns and various critters from skunks, raccoons and even coyotes have been swimming across Seapuit to snack on eggs and fledgling birds.
  • The silt and turbidity this will create will raise hell with the shellfishing and the aquaculture grants owned by the Cotuit Oyster Company, Conrad Geyser, and the commercial aquaculture project inside of West Bay.
  • It erases a very very popular summer sunbathing beach on the Cotuit end.
  • Why not dredge the main channel that was last dredged in 1944 by the Army Corps of Engineers for Camp Candoit and dredge where it will do some good?
  • This is Osterville versus Cotuit


  • The point of the island has grown unnaturally close to the Cotuit shore and is causing a hazard to navigation in and out of the bay.
  • This will dramatically improve flushing and could lead to a restoration of eel grass beds inside of the island and a possible return of scallops, etc.
  • A beach breach into Seapuit could potentially close the river to navigation and open up the waterfront of Oyster Harbor to the full force of Nantucket Sound in a storm.
  • The Cut is an unnatural disruption in the natural order and beach sedimentation processes so man made measures are called for.
  • The point of the island was historically back at the cut off point shown on the map.
  • Dredging will take place in the winter months to cut down on adverse effects to the shellfish which spawn in the summer.
  • The birds are endangered and need all help they can get in terms of optimal nest sites and reduced predators.
  • It’s all one interconnected system so Cotuit vs. Osterville or Osterville vs. Cotuit is silly.

Me? I’ve seen the old photos and know the Cotuit end used to be much wider, so this isn’t an unnatural proposal. I’ve grown accustomed to the current configuration and would very much miss the cove that would all but disappear as a place to anchor my boat on the weekends.  While I can grumble and point fingers at the idiocy of past generations in trashing the beaches with their jetties, groins and Cuts they’re all dead and there’s no undoing the damage, lord knows the current generation sealed the fate of the bays when it permitted the Rape of the Cape to happen from 1970 to the present. I doubt this is going to magically clean up the water quality — we simply don’t have the tidal range to get a big transfer of water through the system, big channels or not, but it can’t hurt. So, I’m in favor but think it’s yet another sign of the times, there’s no going back to what we’ve lost, but there’s no reason to give up hope. And heck, I’ve seen the old plans from the 1920s to build a polo field and landing strip for airplanes on the island, so at least we’re not dealing with that.

Here are some old charts showing the changes to the beach over the years. First, from 1857:

This is pre-Wianno Cut. West Bay in Osterville drains through the Seapuit River and empties into Cotuit Bay and out through a gap between Dead Neck and Sampsons Island, then truly an island.

Now 1933. Thirty years after the Wianno Cut was built. Sampson’s has bonded to Dead Neck and the old channel is closed, forming Cupid’s Cove. The western end, the Cotuit channel, is very wide:

And finally, a Google Earth satellite photo of where we are today.

disclosure: I am a paid member of both Three Bays Preservation and Massachusetts Audubon and think they both do good work. I was a volunteer water quality tester for Three Bays last summer.

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Nov 12 2012

Wild Oysters

A reader of Mark Kurlansky’s excellent history of the New York oyster fishery knows the hardshelled bivalve (Crassostrea virginica) was an important piece of  19th century cuisine and commerce during the earliest years of the nation’s history. Vast “reefs” blanketed the shores and bottoms of the bays and inlets from New Jersey through the southern New England coastline, offering a plentifully cheap protein source that was the mainstay of most American diets.

Those reefs were once so extensive and played such an important role in the health of the estuarine systems that one writer, Paul Greenberg bemoaned their absence in the New York Times as a contributing factor to the devastation wreaked by Superstorm Sandy. A frightening 85% of the world’s oyster reefs have vanished since the 1800s. Oysters’ role as a stabilizer influence, but most encouragingly as a very effective water filtration system, makes them not only a delicacy but a necessity in the rebuilding of a sick coastal embayment. Greenberg wrote:

“Just as corals protect tropical islands, these oyster beds created undulation and contour on the harbor bottom that broke up wave action before it could pound the shore with its full force. Beds closer to shore clarified the water through their assiduous filtration (a single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day); this allowed marsh grasses to grow, which in turn held the shores together with their extensive root structure.”

Yesterday I took an old friend and his wife for a brief oystering expedition. The boat had been parked in the yard for last week’s three-day northeaster. I pulled out handfuls of maple leaves from the bilge. Returned the gas tanks, and launched her back into the bay on the morning tide.  Being sunny, a veritable Indian Summer day* with no wind, sparkling sunshine, and a light haze on the horizon covering the beaches of Popponesset and beyond, it was a good day to take a break from the raking and the housework and get on the water. My friend is working on a photojournalism project about oystering, and she has been filming the various sources for the clams: fish markets, the Cotuit Oyster Company, and the town of Barnstable’s annual oyster season where the Department of Natural Resources lays out its crop of cultivated oysters on the bottom around a couple local beaches and turns loose the wadered permit holders to perform what Cousin Peter and I deride as “shopping” and not “clamming.”

Peter and I discovered a clutch of wild oysters in a never-to-be-disclosed location about ten years ago, and have been careful not to over-harvest from there, making one or two visits during the fall and winter months to pick up a dozen or so for the table. Reluctantly I took my friend and wife out yesterday in the name of journalism, imploring them to maintain some secrecy as the oysters are very tenuous and scarce compared to the wild abundance of oysters around the flats of Wellfleet’s Lieutenant Island. Put another way, when I was a kid, and the harbor was healthy, we never collected oysters. Steamers and quahogs were it. Oysters were nowhere to be seen (or we weren’t looking in the right places) and could only be bought from Dick Nelson at the oyster company (always with a reminder not to do something stupid like cook with them, since Cotuit’s are to be savored raw, on the half-shell, with only a squeeze of lemon juice if you must.)

I took along the dog (see the canine below in the dinghy and the halloween costume) as she is manic about “go-ride-boat” and beach walks. I dug out and pinned my shellfish license to my Kettleer’s cap, pessimistically brought along my leaky waders, Ribb rake and wire basket, and met my friends at the town dock on the afternoon’s low tide. It was an extraordinarily low one that exposed an extra rung of slippery ladder, but we boarded safely and put-putted across the deserted harbor, all boats gine but a few doughty fishermen’s, the field of white and blue-striped mooring balls replaced with winter sticks, giving the place the appearance of a military cemetery in Normandy. The channel cans were gone, prudently pulled by the harbormaster in advance of Sandy and the northeaster, so I was navigating by the seat of my pants, assisted by the completely clear water that revealed some of the dead, dead bottom below us.

As we motored away from the dock we talked about the recent kerfuffle raised by some of the town’s shellfish activists who donate their time and backs to relaying bushels of quahogs from “dirty” areas high in the tidal rivers to cleaner spots lower in the bays where recreational clammers get can get their limit without fear or picking up some nasty sickness. A crew of local commercial clammers have been flouting the laws and exercising their native-American aboriginal riparian rights to shellfish on any day of the week in any water of their choosing without a license. They allegedly wiped out the volunteers’ efforts to manually repopulate one or two local clean beds. I’d seen the Indian clammers in question working off of Lowell’s Point during winter beach walks this past winter. Their pickup truck had bumper stickers pledging their allegiance to the Wampanoag Nation, but I thought little of it until a family member active in the Barnstable Association of Recreational Shellfishermen ranted about their depredations over dinner a few weeks back. Now a big sign forbidding commercial shellfishing adds to the over-signification of the Cotuit waterfront (another rant for another day) but I doubt it will do much to deter the Indian clammers.

I am of a mixed mind when it comes to aboriginal fishing rights as I am solidly pro-Wampanoag to the point that I am sort of pissed off by the whole “kettle and a hoe” thing that defines Cotuit’s local waterhole, baseball team, and an ugly sign across the street in the park (yet another rant for another day). The connection between Wampanoag culture and shellfish is organically intertwined, with ancient “middens” or shell piles still to be found along the pine bluffs and beaches of the Cape’s harbors. Wampum, the woven currency of the tribes, is made from the purple part of a quahog shell; and the tribes used to move their encampments between an inland winter camp up near Hamblin’s Pond (according to local historian Jim Gould) and summer coastal camps generally picked based on proximity to shellfish. It has been often said that the bravest man in the world was the first man to dare to eat an oyster, and doubtlessly that man was some long passed Wamp who watched a gull drop one from a great height onto a boulder to crack it open and then sagely wondered what morsel lay inside that could be eaten. Anyway, more on the Indian clamming issue later, I am not that ardent a shell-fisherman to contribute my time to the relays and in fact, will use this post to make a controversial contrarian statement in favor of encouraging the comeback of our wild stock as a harbinger of healthy waters, rather than promote more aquaculture and its veneer of health and well being.

Back to the hunt for the wild oyster. We anchored, we went to the beach where they have been found in the past, and lo and behold, despite my pre-expedition pessimism that we would be lucky to get one or two, we found an abundance tucked on the verge of the beach grass along the rockweed and the horse mussels, sticking up plain as day in their  glued embrace to the allegedly inedible mussels. Pictures were taken, video videoed, and within half an hour my friend had his fill, and we had ample opportunity to marvel as the health of the wild oysters.

Our theory is these are refugees from the Oyster Company’s owner Chris Gargiulo’s cages of cultivated oysters laid on the bottom of Cotuit Bay in the company’s grants , arguably the oldest brand name in American clams, a holdover from the days when the bilious gourmand Diamond Jim Brady would tuck into three dozen Cotuits at Rector’s in belle epoque Manhattan before settling in for a full meal. I still feel a pang of homesick pride whenever I meet a friend for a bite and a drink at Grand Central’s Oyster Bar and see Cotuits on the menu. The Oyster Company represents all that is good and all that is lost from Old Cotuit, and no one is more devoted to the bay than Chris.

And, I like to think thanks to his seeding efforts, some microscopic spat** have escapes from the cages on the floor of the harbor and make their way on the currents to the mussel beds, where they glue themselves on and flourish. Oysters are unique clams in that they can live exposed to the air and do not need to be submerged all the time. Tropical oysters festoon mangrove roots, wild Cotuit oysters like the very verge between grass and water — submerged half the time and exposed the rest.

The foodie fad that has gives us “locavores” would put a premium on these wild clams. The fact that Cotuit’s wild oysters are thriving — there must be ten times the abundance there was when Cousin Pete and I first discovered their existence — is good news of a sort in a time of very bad news over the bad quality of the coastal estuaries. I continue to maintain that change and action to restore the bays to their former perfection are doomed unless those who remember what we’ve lost are able to share that picture of what could be to the new wave of residents and washashores who look out at the pretty vistas and see nothing but twinkling waves and picturesque sailboats. These oysters are there, they are visible. They aren’t under a foot of sand, masked by algae blooms or turbid waters churned up by weekend propeller parades, they are right on the water’s edge, waiting to be picked up, volunteering their siphons and gills to filtering the mess we’ve managed to make over the last 50 years. And I have no idea what the place looked like before the Army trashed North Bay with Camp Candoit in World War II. I imagine the shoreline was a very very different place 100 years ago.

The clam activists are on the forefront of the outrage of what is now called our “beautiful dirty waters.” They were able to put in place a ban on private piers (with the extraordinary backing of Cotuit’s former town councilor Rick Barry). They wade the muddy waters, they tote the bushels and lobby for the equipment and budgets to keep the clams going strong. I propose they also push for wildness — and use the presence of healthy, wild shellfish as a sort of litmus test for their efforts. Want to “vista prune” your bluff so your starter castle can have a water view? Then you better be able to prove a healthy intertidal zone with oysters that test out pure and clean. Need to truck in a couple barges of boulders to build up a groin or some riprap to keep the next superstorm from eating away at your Chemlawn? How are those wild oysters doing? Need to drive some toxic “pressure-treated ” wood into the sand to form a tidy bulkhead? Not so fast.

I took water samples for the Three Bays Preservation Society during the summer months (I was Test Station #19), driving them to the County Lab in Barnstable Village. I do so happily, but something tells me that seeing an oyster peeking out of the mussels and rock weed at Ropes Beach would say more about the health of the harbor than a parts-per-million bacteria test.




*: “Indian Summer” is technically any day when the temperature reaches 70 degrees following the occurrence of a killing frost.

**: “Spat” is the oysterman’s term for oyster spawn. Oysters grow incredibly quickly and achieve maturity in one year.

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Jun 25 2012

Popponesset Bay shellfish grant gets nod

Published by under Clamming

The Cape Cod Times reports the controversial aquaculture grant in Mashpee’s Popponesset Bay has received approval but is likely to incur further wrath from waterfront property owners.

“An embattled 1.9-acre Popponesset Bay shellfish grant proposal has yet another approval from the town but could still face litigation and appeal from its outspoken opponents.

On June 14, the Mashpee Conservation Commission voted 7-0 to approve Richard Cook’s application to begin growing oysters in an area just west of the Popponesset Spit.

It is Cook’s second attempt to begin growing shellfish in the bay.”

via Popponesset Bay shellfish grant gets nod |

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Mar 02 2012

Let the clamming begin: razor clams

Published by under Cape Cod,Clamming

I picked up my 2012 clamming permit from the Harbormaster this morning for $30. This means of course that the boat needs its bottom painted, battery charged, fuel filter changed, trailer tire reinflated …. and by the time I actually launch and get across the harbor to my favorite early season clam spot, I’ll be out at least $100 for a bucket of quahogs.

I jest. I don’t clam for the economics, it’s just a pastime that gives me an excuse to get on the water when there are no fish to catch or clement breezes to sail. Along with planting the spring peas on St. Pat’s, late winter-clamming is one of those rituals that must be honored — my personal version of Ash Wednesday or Cheese Sunday.

As I waited for the lady at the department of natural resources to finish laminating my card a flyer advertising a “learn to razor clam” seminar (March 11)  for kids caught my eye. That is as good an excuse as any to clam blog about a species that is gaining some traction thanks to a combination of Asian and Italian cuisine induced demand, and a fairly fun but weird way of stalking and capturing the things.

Razor clams were never eaten when I was a kid. Steamers, quahogs and oysters always made their way into the basket and eventually the table and our mouths, but the long brown razor clams were left in the mud.  The main reason I never ate one was probably because they are nigh impossible to catch with one’s bare hands because they can actually flee at a rate faster than a clammer can dig due to their streamlined shape. Named because they resemble antique straight razors, razor clams are scientifically known as Ensis Directus and colloquially as Atlantic jacknife clams or bamboo clams. The shells are about six to eight inches long, three-quarters of an inch across, and contain a long set of clam innards with a “foot” at one end, and a siphon on the other.

In the last decade a new method, salting, has caught on that makes razor clamming a breeze, one that originated in Ireland and then spread to the East Coast of the U.S..  The way it works is simple. Razor clams have a finite tolerance to salinity. Make their environment too salty and they will move, often quite vigorously. The simplest method, demonstrated in this Japanese video, is to sprinkle some salt over the razor clam’s keyhole shaped breathing hole. The salt irritates the clam, the clam first retracts, then, finding no relief, literally ejects itself upwards. Another technique is to bring along an empty plastic soda bottle, fill it with saltwater, and add enough table salt to get an ultra-salty mixture. Pour a little down the hole, and the same effect. Clam is annoyed, pops out of the hole, and the clammer snares it.

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Here is an Irish how-to video using the soda bottle method:

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On Cape Cod the commercial razor clam fishery has grown significantly, especially around Pleasant Bay on the east end around Chatham and Orleans. A 2005 paper on the effects of salting by some Worcester Polytech students estimated the 30 licensed commercial razor clammers in Orleans could take 300 pounds of clams out of the flats per day, raising a concern that the pressure would wipe out the flats and decimate the population (interestingly, Atlantic razor clams are considered an invasive species around Germany’s Elbe River estuary). Demand, according to the paper, is driven by the Asian and Italian markets.

The preferred commercial technique on the Cape is to salt the clams using plastic garden sprayers: the kind with a nozzle and a pump. One just walks the flat looking for the distinctive holes, gives them a squirt and then waits a few seconds for the clam to pop out.





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Jan 27 2012

The Quicksand and the Dead

Published by under Cape Cod,Clamming

It’s been while since I’ve had cause to commit a clamming post. This recent CapeCast tells the tale of one unfortunate Provincetown clammer who stepped into some sucky mud and lost his boots. I did the same thing years ago on Sandy Neck while cruising around for steamers and years ago my youngest, while wearing waders, got seriously stuck in the muck inside of Seapuit River and needed to be pulled out of the waders to be released from the suction.

Cape Cod muck is horrible stuff, especially the black goo up inside of the bays that smells like the clams that live in it. This is Jurassic muck, black as night and has the consistency of entrails.

The video is notable for the guest star appearance of Provincetown’s shellfish officer, Tony Jackett.

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Jan 01 2012

A supposedly stupid thing that wasn’t too bad after all

Published by under Cape Cod,Clamming,Cotuit

The tradition of a New Year’s Day swim has grown in popularity year after year until it has become as common a calendar celebration as the Boston Marathon or Opening Day at Fenway. Thirty years ago the act of hurling oneself into the Atlantic Ocean from a New England beach on New Year’s was restricted to a bunch of organized lunatics in South Boston: the famous L Street Brownies who started their New Year’s swim in 1904, and as far as I know, a bunch of rowdy miscreants  that included myself and were affiliated with the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club.

New Year’s swims are classic photo opportunities for the local newspaper,  and I would guess there were probably 12 swims around Cape Cod today, all competing for front page placement tomorrow in the Cape Cod Times. You know your swim has made it when the television cameras show up, but in days gone past the Cotuit swim took place at night, ostensibly at the stroke of midnight (but usually around 3 am when the party started to stagger and someone got motivated to lead the way), with no one around to spectate and marvel at the insanity but those brave enough to do it.

My first Cotuit swim was in the 1970s at Oregon Beach at the very end of Main Street. Oregon is a very shallow beach — about a quarter mile of foot-deep water before it drops off to any respectable depth. The rules of the swim were simple. First: your swim didn’t count unless your hair was completely wet, so wading in up to the knees and splashing a little was a definite failure. Second, if you were over 30 the swim was optional. And third, he who made it back to the host’s house first, was the only person to get a hot water shower.

The most memorable swim for me happened in 1978 (the winter of the infamous Blizzard of ’78). There was a foot of snow on the ground and the dirt road to the beach was filled with frozen potholes and ruts of frozen slush. The edge of the water was frozen and cakes of frozen saltwater paved the beach down to the water. Oh, and it was dead low tide so it would be a challenge finding enough water to splash in let alone actually swim in.  There were maybe a dozen or two of us planning on swimming/wallowing that year, and the fact that midnight came and went with no move at the raging party to get the swim over with was an indication of how much we dreaded heading outside to meet the 15 degree night. These were not leisurely swims that involved undressing on the sand and carrying towels. We nuded up at the party, ran barefoot down the road, and returned naked.  Nothing about it was smart or good.

Around 3 am my step brother and a good friend, Phil, decided it was time to swim and use the cold water to sober up and thereby breathe a second wind into the party. So we stripped — men and women alike — and off we went down the road to la plage.

My bare feet immediately turned into frozen, totally numb pegs, so I was slow arriving at the beach. Most of the crew was in the water, shrieking and flailing in about six inches of water, rolling around to get their hair wet before ricocheting out and past me on their way to the single shower back at the house. So much for the hot shower. I didn’t wait and consider the consequences, I just went into the water, crunched through some skim ice and starting forging out into the darkness, looking for enough water to flop down in and finish what was quickly becoming the worst thing I had ever done to myself.

I dropped. Hit the bottom. Rolled around. Screamed and stood up. The world went blurry. Had my head shrunk from the shock of the cold water and given me brain damage? Was I that drunk on the Green Death (Haffenreffer Ale) and DeKuypers Peppermint Schnapps?

I had gone swimming with my glasses and they were gone.

I was truly completely Screwed with a capital S. I stood up and looked at the smeary flashes of the lonely navigation buoys out in Nantucket Sound and the orange loom of the lights in Hyannis to the east.  I had to return to college the next day, had no extra glasses, and these being the archaic 1970s, there were no Lenscrafters same-day-glasses places to get a replacement pair.  I couldn’t drive without them. So my initial instinct to just say f%$k it and rejoin the party wasn’t going to work. I was going to stay in the water and find them, my lost pair of gold wire framed John Lennon wanna-be spectacles.

I started clamming around with my toes, but couldn’t feel anything. They were too numb. My hair froze. I leaned over, dropped to my knees and started crawling around in a foot of water feeling around with hands. Clump of sea weed.  Oyster shell. Rock. There was no one else in the water with me by this point and I started to think about the hypothermia tables but gave up because I had no idea what the water temperature was.  Ten minutes? 30?

Success, improbable, but needle-in-the-hay stack success.  I ran from the water and started down the dirt/slush road back to the house, hit a frozen pothole and flew into the air, breaking the ice with my left buttock and covering myself with muddy water. That same ice gave me a nice cut on the butt and the mud, well, it was not taken for mud when I returned to the party one minute later, crazed and bloody, naked and smeared with brown goo. The elder non-swimming contingent was impressed.

The scene in the bathroom was total chaos with six people wedged into the shower stall and the rest shouting at them to hurry up and let them in. I was last in line but at least I could see.

There were many other swims. None of them were exactly pleasant, but all of them were memorable. As far as tribal rites for my circle of friends, the New Year’s Eve midnight(ish) swim was a big one. Wherever I am on New Year’s Eve, I think of my friends back in Cotuit screaming and splashing out of the water in the darkness.

After a decade-long break from the swim (rule 2, optional for anyone over 30), I decided to swim today at noon, in balmy 50 degree sunshine, participating in a mass swim organized to benefit the Mashpee Food Pantry. Essentially I donated $20 to dunk myself. We were blessed by the village minister and a photographer from the Cape Cod Times was there to record the hilarity. I wore an actual bathing suit, had a towel, and was completely sober. While my son and a hundred people watched I threw myself off the deep side of Loop Beach in a nice shallow dive,  screamed underwater, and emerged babbling to thrash my way back to shore where the towel was handed to me and I could say in all honesty: “That wasn’t so bad.”


Phil on the left, me on the right.

The Official Cotuit New Year's Swim

It was not an extraordinary swim to tell the grandchildren about, but it definitely was a brisk way to mark the beginning of 2012 and I’m glad I did it and I probably will do it next year.

Thanks to Marta, I have my new favorite hero.

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Alcohol was involved? No way!

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Nov 01 2011

Cotuit Oyster Company

Published by under Clamming

Great profile of Cotuit’s oldest clam company. I love the final paragraph which sums up why we need to encourage more aquaculture and be less concerned with McMansion waterfront rights.

“And the oysters are actually good for the ecosystem, each filtering as many as 50 gallons of water a day and removing nitrogen. The bivalves’ combined effect, says Gargiulo, is like removing 100 houses with septic systems from the waterfront.”

via Splendid Through the Centuries – Cape Cod Life Online.



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Oct 26 2011

King Tides

Published by under Cape Cod,Clamming,Cotuit

If you want an idea of what coastal life will be like in 2080, after seventy more years of global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps, then go down to the beach today and tomorrow around noon (in Cotuit) when the tide is high and exhibiting the rare, but annual phenomenon known in the southern hemisphere as a “King Tide.”

King tides are high tides that occur when the moon, sun, and earth line up in a straight shot called “perigee” and “perihelion.” The earth experiences two such King tides per year, always during either perigee or perihelion and during a forthnightly spring tide which occurs on a full or a new moon.

The moon is new now, and we should see high tides at levels, according to the scientists, that will be in line with forecasts for overall, normal high tides in 2080. The New York Times today quotes Kate Boicourt, an ecologist with the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program: ““What we’re seeing Wednesday and Thursday is probably what we normally will be seeing by 2080.”

I have personally noticed, and others have commented, that the Cotuit shoreline can get especially innudated on a spring tide, making beach walks impossible along popular stretches of sand such as Ropes Beach and Codman’s Point. In fact, on a moon or spring tide I have to remember not to take the dog on a stroll during my lunch hour as high tide in Cotuit during a full or new moon always coincides with noon and midnight.

Low tides are also extreme during King Tides, so expect to see some extraordinary exposure of sandbars and mud banks — making shoreside clamming a little more interesting as hither before depths become accessible making the older chowder-sized quahogs vulnerable to raking.

Tidal science is interesting stuff — I got a taste of it in the mid-1990s when a partner and I tried to get a tide table capability on our saltwater fly fishing site, Reel-Time. We gave up, but there is a good example of such a site at


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Sep 04 2010

Naked clammer arrested in Hyannis: Is This Wrong?

Published by under Clamming

From the Cape Cod Times:

HYANNIS – A man forgot to wear more than his waders when he went out clamming Friday afternoon off Harbor Bluff Road.

Police arrested Savery Antone, 38, of Falmouth, for open and gross lewdness, after he was seen clamming in 2 feet of water completely in the buff around 4:30 p.m. Friday, said Sgt. Sean Sweeney.

A neighbor called the police to say Antone was offending residents and beachgoers alike.

When police arrived they saw Antone and a male friend about 35 feet offshore in the shallow water.

Antone had a bucket to collect shellfish. His genitals were above water and in full view, Sweeney said.

When police called him on shore, they noticed his slurred speech, and placed him in protective custody, and charged him with open and gross lewdness.

via Naked clammer arrested in Hyannis |

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Apr 03 2010

A good clam cooked well

The more I cook the more I realize I have never gone wrong with Marcella Hazan‘s cookbooks, especially my well worn and falling apart copy of  Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. On Saturday night I found myself with a lot of quahogs and about four dozen beautiful littlenecks I dug with my son on the falling tide. Littlenecks generally get opened and eaten raw on the half-shell, but I wanted a white clam sauce and some pasta so I turned to Marcella’s bible of Italian and made her version of the classic spaghettini con vongole.

The clams came from a very special spot that I won’t disclose because it’s my go-to spot for littlenecks. Quahogs are graded by size. and the most delicate and tasty are the small ones, about the size of a silver dollar, called littlenecks. A step bigger, the right size for clams casino, are cherrystones, and above them come a sort of neither here nor there middle ground that really doesn’t have a name — save perhaps “clams” — and at the high end, for stuffed quahogs or making chowder are the eponymous “chowder” clams about as big as a big man’s fist.

The smallest clams have to  be run through a steel gauge to make sure they are legal. The basket on my Ribb rake is also allegedly spaced correctly to let juveniles drop through, but I use the gauge just to be sure. Any babies get tossed into deeper water where the gulls can’t forage them and they can grow up to become chowders.

The spot is good because it is a small river — a stream really — that has a lot of water velocity with the rising and falling tide and that means the clams are fresher than the ones in stagnant water. They live in sand, not black mud, and are easy to clean and usually deliver a chewing experience without sand or grit. I also have a respect for funky clams, the kinds that give you 36 hours on the toilet or a permanent case of hepatitis. Let’s just say I don’t eat August littlenecks.

We took all we needed in 10 minutes, coming up a few times with rakes filled with six, seven littlenecks. These are not littlenecks in the picture below, but cherrystones.

We wore waders because it is April after all and waders made a day on the water a lot more enjoyable — no filling of boots, no shivering in the windchill of the speeding motorboat, the air temperature on the water in the early spring feels at least ten degrees colder than it does on land, in the yard, out of the wind. We took our littlenecks, measured them, then set off for another spot to look for bigger clams for an Easter Clams Casino and some chowder base to freeze up for the summer when there is company.

The bigger clams are a little harder to harvest, but in 15 minutes we had our limit, coming up with multiple clams on every pull of the rakes.

Flickr Video

We packed it in, climbed back onto the boat and went for a brisk spin around Grand Island to see if Dow Clark the mechanic had success in clearing the clogged carburetor jets on the old Honda. We flew through West Bay, under the drawbridge, and past the boatyard, still in hibernation under a shroud of shrink wrap.

So the recipe? Steam the clams on high heat until the shells pop, then pluck them out and shuck them into a bowl, saving the clam juice. Saute in 6 tbsp. of olive oil about six big garlic cloves sliced very thin and a big shallot. Throw in two diced plum tomatoes, a cup of dry white wine,  two tbsps of red pepper flakes, three tbsps. of chopped parsley and reduce it down. Turn that off, boil a big pot of salted water, cook a box of thin spaghetti until it is almost done — drain, throw in the saute pan with the tomatoes, garlic, oil, etc., toss over high heat until all the liquid is evaporated. Turn off the heat. Throw in the clams and their juice, a dozen torn up basil leaves and eat. One of the better uses of four dozen littlenecks I’ve ever tried. Tomorrow – clams Casino and chowder before the Easter feast.

7 responses so far

Jun 02 2009

KB White Clam Rakes

Published by under Clamming

Geno in the comments brings to my attention another Cape Cod-based maker of clam rakes — K.B. White. He even has a blog to spread the news.

K.B. White is based in Falmouth and sells online. I can’t testify to their quality as I am a Ribb Rake guy at present, but I will check out their stuff the next time my rake needs put me in the market.

2 responses so far

May 11 2009

Dirty Water

Published by under Clamming

I spent a rainy Saturday in a wobbly chair in a lecture hall at Cape Cod Community College because of a newspaper headline that said words to the effect of “Cape Coastal Cleanup Could Wind Up in Court.” My curiosity piqued by the organizing presence of the Conservation Law Foundation – a non-profit that literally sued the shit out of Boston Harbor – turning one of the nation’s worst polluted bodies of water into one of the cleanest – I did a little homework, crawled into the back row, and watched a panel muddle their way through a well-intentioned discourse on the disgusting state of Cape Cod’s estuaries, bays, harbors, and coves.

Dead harbors make me mad (after all this blog is devoted to clamming strategies).   Flush a toilet on Cape Cod and eventually, not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, the result is going to make its way into the water. There, the waste over-nourishes the environment and promotes algae blooms, which in turn cloud the water, blocking sunlight from hitting the bottom. Lack of light and the suffocation effects of the algae kills off the  eel grass where the scallops live and breed. Eventually, over three or four decades, the result is a turbid soup of slime and inedible spider crabs.

The situation sucks and is getting suckier, despite a well intentioned panoply of studies, proposals, committees and coalitions.

Enter the Conservation Law Foundation, a non-profit environmental advocacy group that does one thing very well – it sues polluters and gets stuff cleaned up. When the CLF starts talking about litigation, politicians pay attention, and now the selectmen and town councilors of Cape Cod’s 15 towns are realizing that they may not have decades to figure out how to get the nitrogen out of their harbors.

Yes, sure, there are reasons to let the Cape figure this one out on its own. (There is a pool of zero interest cash available to fund these projects, cash that goes away if the borrowers are under court order) But the implications of a massive “big pipe” sewer system, one built regionally to pool the effluent from those 15 towns, is both expensive and staggering to behold. To say taxpayers aren’t going to like it is an understatement. Residents who live inland, away from the Gatsby mansions of the waterfront, are going to be hard pressed to accept any responsibility for nitrogen loading – yet, as we live on a so-called sole source aquifer – a giant sponge of sand, everyone, including me and my septic tank, are going to have to buck up at some point and pay to have our houses connected to a big pipe that will route our personal emissions inland to a big treatment plant. It’s the only way. We can haggle over in-ground nitrogen mitigation solutions, we can blame lawn fertilizer, birds, and dog poop …. But in the end it’s all septic and it’s got to go.

The CLF can accelerate that. It would start by convincing the EPA that the Cape is broken, in violation, and in need of a cleanup. Then the screaming starts. The municipal bonds, the massive infrastructure disruption, the trenches, the plants, the equipment ….

And, even if a massive sewer is put in place (and the voters of Chatham are moving closer to becoming one of the first towns to go down that road to save their beloved Pleasant Bay), it will be decades before the benefits are realized. In the department of unintended consequences, when you take away septic tanks and their discharge as the gating factor in land use, you can suddenly argue that a 12 story condo with 90 units is okay on that little patch of waterfront scrub pine. Can you say Florida or Long Island? The Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod is right – this is a big infrastructure issue and it’s cheaper to treat a cluster of customers than a lot of sprawled out ones.

I’m voting with my checkbook and joining the CLF. I want them to be the catalyst that binds the 15 towns of the Cape together in a truly regional compact and gets my harbor cleaned up.

This is the first time I have written about sewers since I covered the town of Salem. NH for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune in 1982. I vowed then it would be the last. It isn’t. Sewers remain the most tedious topic on the planet, and yet, one might argue, one of the more important.

5 responses so far

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