Quahog repopulation on the horizon for Wareham, Dartmouth, Fairhaven

By Matthew Bernat | Mar 26, 2017
Courtesy of: Wareham Harbormaster Department Harbormaster employees build one of three quahog upwellers that will be used this summer to grow shellfish. Funds for the upwellers came from a settlement awarded to offset problems caused by the 2003 Bouchard oil spill.

Quahoggers take heart, populations of the sought-after shellfish in Wareham, Dartmouth and Fairhaven may soon be on the rise.

Thanks to money set aside for the restoration of Buzzards Bay, three new “upwellers” – essentially floating nurseries for quahogs – have been built by officials from those towns' harbormaster departments.

Funding for the project came from a settlement associated with the Bouchard oil spill. The spill dumped 98,000 gallons along nearly 100 miles of Buzzards Bay coastline in 2003, affecting wildlife, shellfish beds and recreational activities. In 2011, state agencies secured a $6 million settlement to restore wildlife and habitat.

Wareham Harbormaster Garry Buckminster said he expects that the upwellers, or floating upweller systems as they are officially called, will be in the water by June.

For this project, each town received $10,000 to build the upwellers. Slightly more than $12,000 will be awarded to the three towns to divvy up for the purchase of seed quahogs over the next two years, said Buckminster.

The floating docks were built at the Wareham Harbormaster’s workshop on Charge Pond Road this winter. Buckminster said it was a team effort with employees from the three departments collaborating.

“All three towns came together to build the upwellers,” said Buckminster. “We sat down and said Wareham has a facility for the build...We helped both towns build their upwellers and they helped us build ours.”

The upwellers look like ordinary, wooden floating docks, but beneath are trap doors that open onto troughs where minuscule quahogs will be placed. In those troughs, nutrient rich water will be pumped through the system by an electrical engine, helping the shellfish grow.

Three years ago, the Wareham Harbormaster Department launched a similar program, but for growing oysters. This project should be as successful, Buckminster said, but added that there will be a learning curve. Wareham’s quahog upweller will be in operation near the Onset Pier this summer in addition to the oyster program.

“We have to determine the most productive way to grow quahogs with the least amount of mortality,” he said. “We want to get them as big as possible, as fast as possible.”

The goal is to replenish quahog stock across Buzzards Bay for two reasons, said Buckminster. First, the water-filtering shellfish help keep the bay clean. Second, recreational and commercial fisherman suffered financially due to the spill.

It takes about three years for quahogs to grow large enough to be harvested. And Buckminster said there’s no guarantee the quahogs will survive as, just like in growing crops, there is the possibility of failure. However, by looking to area towns that have implemented similar programs he’s confident the project will succeed.

“It is a gamble, but we can look toward towns such as Falmouth and its aquaculture efforts, they’re one of the top towns in the area,” said Buckminster. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel if we can look at what they’ve done.”

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