Clamming Strategies

Today was an extreme tide — a spring tide I believe — so there was but one thing to do and that was clam.

March clamming is clean clamming — the water is clear, the nitrogen levels are low, the danger from red tide, fecal coliform, hepatitis, vibro and any other alimentary tract threatening clam induced illness is next to nil. It is also open clamming, meaning the department of natural resources hasn’t closed the back waters yet and its open season until May 1 for those spots that are off limits in the summer.

The old saw about only eating clams in a month with an “R” in it, is pretty much a good rule of thumb. I’ll clam into June, but July and August, even September clams … I pass.

This isn’t because of any recent threat to the clams, or any degradation in water quality, it’s just warm water clams don’t seem to taste as well as the cold water kind.

With new clam licenses in hand, and my son Fisher in his first pair of waders, we launched the boat and put-putted across the harbor to the island where we saw a baby harbor seal sunning itself on the beach. Well meaning people sometimes call the dog catcher or the ASPCA to say such beached seals are in distress, but usually they are not, and are just a new thing for people to deal with since they had all but vanished from our beaches before the passage of the marine mammal protection act. Trying to “help” a beached baby seal is evidently a very dumb idea, as the suckers are complete ingrates and will try to take your fingers off.

We dug our limit in quahogs (pronounced “co-hawgs”) with rakes, then hand dug our limit in steamers (aka, “soft-shelled” clams). Fisher was good with the bull rake, and took a turn with my Ribb rake, the best clam rake on the planet. We focused on cherrystones and littlenecks (referring to the relative size of the quahogs) for eating raw on the half-shell and broiling into Clams Casino. If I had been in a chowder mood then we would have focused on … chowder clams — big quahogs that generally see their shells turned into ashtrays. Extra-large steamers are known as “chokers.”

We then went to the super-secret wild oyster spot. This is a very big deal as oysters are delicacies (Cotuit oysters are world renowned, and indeed, are considered the best there are by true gourmands) and wild oysters, as opposed to farmed ones, are very, very hard to find. But we found them. Lots of them. Getting to them was a challenge as the extra-low tide exposed the extra-treacherous mud. This is Fisher reenacting the quicksand scene from Wages of Fear.

As we left, I had to take a picture of my favorite piece of rich people insanity, the security camera disguised as a bird house..

So … Clams Casino, cherrystones, and oysters on the half-shell tonight. Fried clams tomorrow night after the steamers have had a night to “de-sand” themselves.

Association backs floating bags for aquaculture – UPDATE OPINION – The Barnstable Patriot – Cape Cod & Islands

Guest Commentary: Association backs floating bags for aquaculture – UPDATE OPINION – The Barnstable Patriot – Cape Cod & Islands

In the clam department, The Barnstable Patriot has a rebuttal by the president of the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association, Scott Mullin, to Three Bays and the anti-oyster bag forces.

I am trending towards a pro-bag position based on nitrogen reduction. Oysters are excellent de-nitrifiers. I also respect the navigation risk — being an in-shore sculler I stand a higher risk of running into a field of bags than most — but being made aware that there were bag systems used in Cotuit last summer, and not remembering their location, I can’t say they were an issue for me directly. I don’t know. More thought and study required on my part.

“In addition, the nursery systems provide positive ecosystems services in the form of removing nitrogen from the overlying waters. The consumed nitrogen, in the form of phytoplankton, is either incorporated into oyster tissue and harvested or is transitioned to the benthos where it is converted to a form that is unavailable for biological activity, i.e. a non-eutrophic form. In many areas of the country, large public programs, e.g. in Chesapeake Bay, and more locally in Mashpee, are focused on expanding oyster populations to counter the eutrophic conditions resulting from nutrient run-off from land-based sources. In the Three Bays area, local shellfish farmers are taking care of this program for you, at no cost to the public.”


Boat trailers are this morning’s topic as they were yesterday’s obsession.

I am a very “un-handy” person, wreaking damage on myself and my victims whenever I put a tool in my hands, something Cousin Pete finds very funny whenever he witnesses me employing a tool in a wrong-headed manner, e.g. whacking a screw like it was a nail with a wrench like it was a hammer.

Having resolved to be street-legal in the trailer department this year (after years of semi-renegade/scofflaw status with an expired license plate, and a broken light), I renewed my trailer registration so I could trailer the boat around Cape Cod this spring and launch in new and foreign waters for pure exploration purposes. Step one was a plate renewal, step two was lighting (which I accomplished to my great satisfaction yesterday in a world of slush and mud) and step three is getting a professional to replace the wheel bearings so I don’t suffer the ultimate in auto-nautical disasters, the loss of a trailer wheel due to a seized hub bearing.

As we once sang during one trailer wheel loss, to the tune of Kenny Roger’s Lucille:

You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel …Over the shoulder, and into the field … You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel….”

Town Dock, Cotuit

Town Dock, Cotuit
I have seen massive trailer malfunctions on several occasions, typically involving Cotuit Skiffs, which only see a trailer twice a year — once when launched, and again when pulled — hence the trailers tend to be antiques known more for their flat tires and lack of license plates than anything else. One year someone lost a trailer wheel coming up Putnam Ave. near the cemetery with a 40-year old Skiff aboard, and just kept going, dragging the sucker another half-mile as the axle gouged a scar through the pavement which is still there today. When I was a kid the household’s skiff trailer was made out of an old car axle and homemade wooden frame. That lasted until the early 70s when it collapsed from corrosion. In the old days, some people put their boats on a wooden cradle and dragged them, wheel-free, down the street behind the Studebaker.

With visions of poking around the back waters of Barnstable Harbor, Pleasant and Waquoit Bays, and even launching up in Truro in the Pamet River, I am determined to get my trailer in obsessive-compulsive condition, so for once I can drive down Route 6 without a weird feeling in the back of my pants that utter disaster is about to befall me, or a state trooper will notice a registration sticker from the last century and write me up a big ticket.

Of such stuff are weekends in March spent, obsessing about life’s perpetual to-do list before better weather inclines me to be flaky.

1st Day on the Water 2007

Yesterday broke the back of winter (knock on wood), so I put the boat battery on the trickle charger, bought six gallons of high-test, hitched the trailer to the car, put on my waders, and launched the Tashmoo with crossed fingers. Fisher and I paddled it out to Bob Jensen’s mooring barge, tied up, and got ready to crank the motor over for the first time since November.

First try and we were in business! A Churbuck first! I let the motor idle for five minutes, varying the throttle to clean out the carburetors, then off we went for a fast blast at full throttle through a few acres of crackling skim ice in the cove. A full-speed boat jaunt in early March is an excellent demonstration of the concept of wind chill.

We tied up to the town dock and walked to the house to rouse the rest of the family into putting on boots, locating the camera, and donning windbreakers.

We circumperambulated Dead Neck. The dogs had fun and everyone got a little tanned. Home for the extra hour of daylight, dog baths, a fast dinner, then a trip to the movies for “The 300” (which was gory and over the top).

Whereabouts this week:

3.12 – Cotuit-Vegas

3.13 – Vegas, Community 2.0 conference

3.14 – Vegas-Cotuit

3.15-18 – Cotuit

A rift in West Bay – Oyster Bags

A rift in West Bay (March 5, 2007)

“Strung out across the water at high tide was a half-acre of what looked like thousands of black floating purses, each almost 4 feet long. Filled with oysters, the bags were laid out in a grid held together with 5,000 feet of plastic line and 400 feet of chain. The bags were tethered to the ocean floor by eight anchors.”

Cape Cod Times today has a story about angry waterfront property owners in Osterville looking to ban floating bags in West Bay put there by a local aquaculturist. The guy who put the bags out claims they have been used for a “forty years” in the Three Bays area, but I’ve never seen them. The Cotuit Oyster Company has grants in Cotuit Bay, and in the area known as the Narrows, but I’ve never seen them use the bags in the past. Time was the only evidence there was an oyster bed was a black and white stick in the water, and years ago, a tree branch stuck in the mud.

Aquaculture is a growing business on the Cape. A buddy has a quahog grant outside of the harbor on the SW side of Dead Neck, but oysters do better inside where the salinity is lower due to the fresh water springs and rivers running into the bay system.

Here is the Three Bays Preservation report, or rather point of view to the town opposing the bags.

update: a reader sent a link to the Friends of West Bay’s website. It has an amazing photo, scraped here.


Tribe recognition comes at a cost (February 17, 2007)

I live in a village on Cape Cod next to the town of Mashpee, an interesting place that was regarded as somewhat backward when I was young in the 1960, a run down town without a high school or much in the way of development, just a lot of scrub pines and oaks, ponds and bays, with a big high end golf community on the oceanside.

As I grew older I learned that Mashpee was the Cape home for the “praying Indians”, those members of the Wampanoag tribe that had converted to Christianity in the 17th century. Their church, or meetinghouse, is about two miles from my house. In the 1920s, one Red Shell, “Cape Cod Indian Historian” wrote a series of historical articles in a local newspaper. Of the meetinghouse he wrote:

“Shearjashub Bourne, a white man, purchased from Chief Quachatisset of the Mashpee village in 1684, a tract of land which is now Mashpee Centre. In payment, he agreed to construct a house of worship in the fashion of the white man for the Wampanoags of Mashpee. He built the church at Bryant’s Neck; near Santuit Pond. The Wampanoags of the upper Cape offered prayer there to the Great Spirit until 1717, when it was moved to Indian Hill, where it has remained ever since. There is an open register within the church where tourists from all parts of the world have inscribed their names and the dates of their visits.”

While the church has stood there since 1717, the descendants of Chief Quachatisset have not been recognized as members of the Wampanoag tribe until this week.

I won’t go into the history of Mashpee. I feel it is outrageous the way the tribe and its descendants have been treated over the past three hundred years, caught up in court and screwed in the typical cliche of land screwings that seem to bedevil every native American tribe.

Well, now they are official, and that means they are, in fact, a sovereign nation. Now the neighborhood is holding its breath, concerned that a casino could come into town sometime soon, a reasonable fear given that this piece of information in the Cape Cod Times this morning:

“Herb Strather, a Detroit real estate and casino developer, is leading the pack of outside investors. Strather has given the tribe $15 million since 1999. It’s not known exactly how the money has been used. That’s one of the reasons prompting a lawsuit filed by four Wampanoag, who are suing the tribe to make financial records public. In particular, the plaintiffs want to know exactly how much money Strather gave the tribe to help secure federal recognition.

Strather’s contribution to the tribe doesn’t come without a price.

”It certainly forces the tribe to give up some of their economic sovereignty to some degree,” said Gavin Clarkson, an assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of Michigan.”

Stay tuned.