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.”



The Recent Reading List

William Boyd is one of those English novelists who seems to simmer under the surface of fame and motors along an acquired taste and favorite of readers who love great writing. I was introduced to him by Charles Dubow (who’s first novel, Indiscretion, is to be published next month) in the 1990s when we were colleagues at and ever since I’ve pressed Boyd’s novels onto my friends who appreciate the good stuff.

Boyd sets his books in the past — he seems most comfortable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — and his protagonists, generally Englishmen, are wonderfully vivid characters, artists and dreamers beset by the world.

His latest, which I am still reading, is Waiting for Sunrise, set in Vienna before World War One. a story of a young man seeking “the talking cure” for his inability to achieve an orgasm.

The first Boyd novel I read, one that remains one of my favorites, is The New Confessionsthe story of John James Todd, survivor of the trenches of France, cameraman, silent film director and auteur, who sets out to audaciously film Jean Jacques Rousseau’s “Confessions”. From WWI to Hollywood, it remains the best novel about cinema I have read.

Dead Neck/Sampsons Island dredging update

Wednesday night the Cotuit Santuit Civic Association met at the Cotuit Library to hear representatives from Three Bays and Mass Audubon describe their proposed dredging and bird habitat restoration application. Engineers were also in attendance to answer questions.

This was an informational session for the members of the Association. January 8 the application will be presented to Barnstable’s Conservation Commission for its review, part of a long permitting process that will require sign off from the town’s waterways and shellfish committees, the state, and eventually the Army Corps of Engineers.

The application is for a permit to dredge, in three winter phases, about 800 feet or 11 acres of sand off of the western spit of Sampsons and backfill it through pipes to the east end by the Wianno Cut, the man-made breach dug through the sand spit in the early 1900s. This would build up the sand-starved section behind the western jetty of the cut, prevent an over-wash and breach of Nantucket Sound through the island into the Seapuit River, and re-establish a gentle berm on a beach that is now a sheer wall of eroded scarp unsuitable for the nesting shorebirds that make the barrier island one of the most important shorebird breeding areas in Massachusetts.

Here’s a bullet list of random new things I learned. If you want to get smart about the project, go to the 3 Bays website and take a look at the application and engineering plans yourself.

  • The western spit and Cotuit entrance to the three-bays has been dredged several times in the past: 1934, 1947 and 1967. Three Bays has been active in dredging the internal channel and has shaved a few dozen feet from the point in recent times.  I remember the 1967-68 project when the sand was not pumped east, but deposited in a small hill right behind the point, a hill that has since been overgrown with beach grass.
  • No one knows what the recent appearance of clay on the south side of Cotuit point means. It would need to be excavated and trucked away.
  • The opening of the channel will improve Cotuit Bay’s water quality about 7% (I don’t know by what measure, e.g. nitrogen ppm, etc.) and the overall three-bay systems by 3%
  • The tree removal proposed by Mass Audubon is to reduce the copse of trees around the eastern shores of Cupid’s Cove (variously referred to last night as “Cupid’s” “Pirate’s” and “Lovers Cove) to reduce predation of tern and piping plover chicks by crows.
  • The sand is needed to provide more open breeding ground for the birds who cannot breed in dense vegetation. Hence the plan is not to pump, shore up, and plant protective beach grass, but to create more open sand areas favorable for the birds to make their nests.
  • This application gives the two groups permission to maintain the project over a decade without having to re-apply.
  • If nothing is done then several scenarios could emerge. 1) the east end breaches, Seapuit River is compromised, and the island could join Grand Island/Oyster Harbors 2) Cupid’s Cove will continue to overwash and eventually breach and 3) the Cotuit end could join the mainland around Riley’s Beach.
  • Sampson’s was the private property of one Harry Bailey (must research who he was) who donated it to Mass Audubon with the express wish that it be maintained as a wildlife sanctuary.
  • In 1958 there were 1000 pairs of nesting common terns, the best year ever. Now a good year is considered to see less than half that number, with 400 pairs nesting in 1998. Other species include roseate and least terns.
  • In terms of bird predation, the biggest killers are crows and coyotes. Humans only can be directly connected to one percent of bird deaths.
  • Kicking people off the island is not a motive. The barrier island is very crowded with boaters and sunbathers in the peak months of July and August. While Mass Audubon requires a membership card to sit on the beach (I strongly recommend you get one for your family if you haven’t and put it on an automatic renewal) there is no indication they are trying to “kick people” off the beach. Dickheads who bring dogs to the island should be horsewhipped. For the most part the bird wardens do a good job “fencing” off the breeding spots with string and sticks and generally being a friendly presence, checking membership cards and offering to educate people about the importance of the reserve.
  • The project will cost $1.5 million, which will need to be raised from private donors. Former town councilor Rick Barry quizzed Lindsay Counsell, the executive director of Three Bays, about the use of public funds, but it wasn’t clear to me whether Three Bays would seek town assistance as it tries to get its dredging projects integrated with the town’s comprehensive dredging plan. That would cut down on the expensive re-permitting process.
  • The engineers said alternatives to the proposal have been considered and rejected as too expensive or unfeasible due to the regulatory environment. Questions from the audience about alternatives to carving off of the point for sand, and going into Nantucket Sound either as part of a process to widen and deepen the navigational channels or take sand from further out in the Sound were rejected due to regulatory difficulties in such “sand mining.”
  • Best case scenario for starting the three-year project would be to get all permits in place by next fall and commence the first dredging in January and February 2014. That small window follows the busy holiday season at the Cotuit and Cape Cod Oyster Companies, and would complete the work before the birds migrate and begin to breed in late April, early May. The dredging would continue in 2015 and 2016.

Conclusions: I remain in favor, but the sad reality is this is a Sisyphean project that will need to be repeated over and over. The culprit in everybody’s mind is the “armoring” of the coast line by the wealthy waterfront owners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with groins, bulkheads and jetties. If we were to seek an everlasting solution then the answer would be to remove the Osterville jetties, plug the Wianno Cut, and force the removal of all man made structures along the coast line that now impede the natural coastal drift of the sand.

And even then, if that impossible vision were achieved, we’d need to confront that fact that rampant coastal development has utterly trashed the interior estuaries and getting nitrogen levels down is the only way to get water quality back to pre 1970-Rape-Of-The-Cape levels.

So, dredge away and dredge some more, don’t bring your dog to the island, read up, and get involved.

Patti Page: 1927-2012

For the longest time I thought this song was the reason Cape Cod went to the dogs — Patti Page sings a sappy song and the hordes come rolling over the bridges looking for the vision the song painted. Then, homesick and a coast away in California, in a pizza parlor way out in the Sunset of San Francisco on Clement Street, down to my last $20 bucks, a calzone, a pitcher of Anchor Steam, and a couple college buddies, I drop a quarter in the jukebox and there she was: Old Cape Cod. There’s only one other song that is more evocative of the Cape gone-by, and that in my mind is the Thompson’s Clam Bar jingle. Anyway, I punched in the buttons,  sat down, picked up my beer, and toasted the Cape as she began to sing:

Patti Page: 1927-2012, RIP: (New York Times obituary)

On New Year diets

It is the New Year and time for resolutions, chief among them the annual promise to lose weight and get in shape. Having invested my share of brain cells to the topic of diet, and finding myself a bit of an amateur evangelist for reforming one’s health following my physical breakdown in 2006 following my bike vs. automobile incident, I thought I’d succinctly offer some unsolicited advice to those of you thinking about turning over a new leaf. My credentials? I went from a whopping, life-threatening 280 pounds in August 2010 to 228 in February 2012 by going on a disciplined regimen of paleo diet on Zone block calculated portions with vigorous Crossfit training. This is not a “diet” but a life style change.

1. Log:  You can’t manage what you don’t measure  so start a food log. Be religious about logging everything that enters your stomach. I use Livestrong’s “MyPlate” — it has a great database for calculating the caloric content of nearly every food imaginable.

2. Weigh:  Treat food like medicine — a drug you administer to yourself five times a day. You need to know your “dosage” so weigh your portions. After a while you’ll learn to eyeball it. Get a decent digital food scale.

3. Study:  nutritional theory is being turned on its head. The old FDA “Food Pyramid” is under attack and it is very likely that your doctor doesn’t know what he or she is talking about any more. Ignore the diet books — you need to stop thinking in terms of “diets” as in plans or gimmicks.  Get off the yoyo cycle of South Beach, Atkins, etc. and instead aim for a sustainable approach to eating for the rest of your life.

  • Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes. This is the most important book to come along in years.
  • It Starts With Food, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. These authors of the Whole30 challenge offer a good intro to kicking off a “paleo” regimen.
  • Enter the Zone, Barry Sears. The Zone was one of the big “low-carb” diets of the last decade. It’s formula of apportioning food into “blocks” of protein, carbs and fats calculated againt your lean body mass is the best method for determining how much you should eat. Combine it with the paleo principles of whole foods omitting dairy, sugar, grains, and legumes and you wind up with what the Crossfit community considers the A-1 best diet model for the rest of your life.
  • Robb Wolf: one of the “deans” of the paleo movement.
  • YouTube series of Crossfit and the Zone/Paleo Combination. This is very useful.

4. Understand: To do that you need to understand the science behind nutrition and accept certain new emerging truths:

  • Eating fat doesn’t make you fat
  • Grains are not good for you
  • Hormonal response to food dictates where that food’s energy is stored.  Timing of meals is important.
  • Eating clean doesn’t mean eating organic, it means eating “whole” unprocessed food whenever possible
  • Finally — this is all quantifiable and comes down to the simple truth of all diets — to lose weight you need to expend more calories than you consume.

5.  Exercise:  figure out something that will burn a few hundred calories and keep you interested. If you’re really off track, just get into a routine of walking and work up to something more aerobic. Just get moving. Crossfit is not the answer for most people. It’s expensive, it’s a commitment, but it is effective for former athletes and type-A personalities. Just make daily movement and creating a calorie deficit as much a plan as the menus you build.

6. Commit:  Dive into the Whole30 January challenge. Purge your refrigerator, buy a scale, find a farmer’s market and load up on the essentials. Detox yourself for a week, then settle into a routine that can stay with you forever. There’s no weirdness — no cleansing, no grapefruits, bacon and steak — just a logical routine that once learned will help shape your most important contribution you can make to your health: your diet.

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