Wild Harvest


Shellfish harvesting has been practiced in Rhode Island waters since before European colonization. As Rhode Island has become increasingly populous, shellfish resources have fluctuated in abundance and distribution (Oviatt, C. et al. 2003, Rice, M. 2006). The shellfish fishery has in turn fluctuated and includes times of large shellfish markets and profitability, and times of low prosperity for shellfishers. The quahog, Rhode Island’s official state shell, is the most economically important resource harvested from Narragansett Bay. Harvested commercially by tongs, bullrakes, and even divers, quahogs in Rhode Island once supported the largest outboard motor fishing fleet in the world. In the 1980s, fishermen say, it was not uncommon to see over 1,000 boats harvesting the Bay’s bounty on a given day. Many have said it’s a model for sustainable harvest, remaining largely un-mechanized, as men and women still rely on their brawn and endurance to collect a day’s pay. However, the price of quahogs hasn’t changed much over the years, making it more and more difficult for quahoggers to make a decent wage and to stay in the business. With fewer than 100 full time quahoggers left in Rhode Island today, it is uncertain how long the commercial industry will hold on. This decline in numbers of shellfishermen is one major concern expressed by stakeholders during the SMP scoping sessions. Other issues include regulations preventing shellfishers from directly selling their product to consumers, inadequate stock assessments, and a lack of clear communication from regulators regarding the rules that govern the trade.


DEM Office of Water Resources – The purpose of this program is to restore, preserve, and enhance the water quality of Rhode Island waters, to maintain existing uses and to protect the waters from pollutants so that the waters shall, where attainable, be fishable and swimmable, and be available for all designated uses and thus assure protection for the public health welfare, and the environment.

RI DEM Shellfish Closure Information -The latest information on closures provided by RI DEM. Please note: “Information regarding current status of areas subject to conditional closures (including those related to wet weather and/or bypasses at sewage treatment plants) and closures related to emergencies is available 24-hours a day by calling 401-222-2900.

DEM Marine Fisheries – The mission of the DEM Marine Fisheries staff is to research and monitor marine species to support the effective management of finfish and shellfish of commercial and recreational importance.

NOAA Fish Watch provides information about sustainable seafood choices.

Community Fisheries Network – A group of community-based fishing organizations from across the country, with the goal of increasing the long-term sustainability of fishing communities.
New Hampshire Seafood – A site supporting New Hampshire fishermen and businesses, including a “Local Promise” brand label on local fish products.


2013 Management Plan for the Shellfish Fishery sector, DEM, December 2012

Carbonate Mineral Saturation State as the Recruitment Cue for Settling Bivalves in Marine Muds by M. Green, et al., Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (2012). Juvenile bivalves undergo a transitional phase in the benthic sediments of their home range where they explore and then accept/reject sediments. Little is known about the settlement cues the juveniles follow to productive shell-growth environments. In this paper, the authors provide evidence that ‘mineral thermodynamics’ may be the overarching cue eliciting response from new settlers to a benthic environment.
Clam Wars
“Citing allegations ranging from destruction of marine life and habitat, to the illegal taking of shellfish from public clamming and oyster beds”, the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association filed a $750 million dollar lawsuit in Nassau County, NY. This suit is specifically against the town of Oyster Bay, and Frank M. Flower & Sons Inc. The local fishermen here are interviewed about their love for shellfishing, and specific incidents/problems they have had with Frank M. Flower & Sons Inc.

Coastal Acidification by Rivers: A Threat to Shellfish? by J. Salisbury, et al., University of New Hampshire, St. Joseph’s College (2008). Ocean acidification has been attributed to many different factors, but coastal marine ecosystems are often subject to acidification via river water; while river plumes have generally been acidic when compared to the receiving ocean, “the chemical nature and magnitude of discharge” are changing – in part due to climate change and land-use practices. Acidification of shellfish habitat has been shown to prevent or reverse the growth of vital shell tissues.

Maine Ocean Acidification with Mark Green (2011) [Video]. Saint Joseph’s College professor Mark Green explains effects of ocean acidification on shellfish larvae in Maine.

Notice of Polluted Shellfishing Grounds, DEM Office of Water Resources, May 2013. This document is the most current guide to closed waters in Narragansett Bay, providing information on prohibited sites, seasonally-closed sites, and conditionally-closed ones. It lays out the specifics for these perpetually/conditionally closed local sites in the context of the larger growing area. It also includes a map guide for the 17 individual growing areas through-out Narragansett Bay, and the closed local sites within them, as a visual aid.

Quahoggers (2008) [film]. Quahoggers explores the working life of two shellfishermen in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. By following them, the film looks at the past, present and uncertain future of the quahogging industry. See the trailer here.

Rhode Island Shellfish Harvest Area Tagging Map (RIDEM). This map describes shellfish harvest areas for the sole purpose of reporting landings for fisheries management needs.

Scientists study the effects of ocean acidification on the Gulf of Maine by Peter Mcdougall, The Working Waterfront (October, 2009) [news article]. This article focuses on Dr. Mark Green’s research in Maine. While atmospheric CO2 is one of the main causes of ocean acidification, the impacts on coastal muds has also been a result of human activities. Mollusks (includes bivalves), are considered to be indicator organisms for high acidity. The increased mortality of juveniles has been shown to subside when crushed shells have been added to the coastal muds, increasing the availability of carbonate ions in the water (used in shell creation).
The Rhode Island Quahogger: Candidate for the List of Endangered Species? by James M. Korney, University of Rhode Island (1981). This thesis concentrates on the hypothesis that the livelihood of the independent Narragansett Bay quahogger was faced with two potentially critical threats: water pollution in the upper regions of the bay, and the prospect of an expanding aquaculture industry in the lower bay. It examines the legal, political, economic and environmental effects of these two factors on the Rhode Island quahog fishery.

For a list of all resources and references, please Resources page.