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Photo: Allison Stocks
Recent carbon dating has revealed that the oldest clam garden known to science was built about 3,500 years ago,” says the Guardian. It’s in Canada’s Vancouver area.

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy the verbal style some indigenous people use when speaking of traditional ways or of ancestors. If it is not disrespectful to say so, it transports me to a place in the imagination where wizards and Hobbits reside — different from my own place in a way that feels both magical and close to Nature.

In Vancouver, Adrienne Matei writes for the Guardian, “On winter nights for the past six years, a group of 20 people have rustled through dark, coniferous woods to emerge on a Canadian beach at the lowest possible tide, illuminated by a correspondingly full moon.

“An elder offers a greeting to the place and a prayer, then the team of researchers, volunteers, and First Nations ‘knowledge holders’ lights a warming fire and begins its work. At sites outlined by stones placed hundreds or even thousands of years ago, some begin raking, or ‘fluffing,’ the top three inches of the beach, loosening rocks and mud — and a remarkable number of old clam shells.

“When the tide comes back in, it will flush out any rotting organic matter, changing ‘some places that are compact and smelly into a good clam beach again.’ says Skye Augustine, a member of the Stz’uminus First Nation.

“This spot was once a clam garden, an ancient indigenous form of mariculture that coastal First Nations people have used for millennia. It is estimated that they once numbered in the thousands along the Pacific north-western coast, though ruins are all that’s left of most. In collaboration with the W̱SÁNEĆ and Hul’q’umi’num nations, Augustine has spearheaded the first formal clam garden rehabilitations at two sites in the Gulf Islands, in British Columbia, with dozens more to follow.

‘My elders articulated to me that if we want to bring our beaches back to life again, we need to bring people back on to them to care for them as they have been cared for in the past.

” ‘That became my inspiration for my education and career,’ she says. ‘How do we make this clam garden thing happen?’

“For millennia pre-colonization, clam gardens epitomized sustainable food security for Pacific north-western coastal nations from northern Washington to south-eastern Alaska. Modern studies have found that clam gardens have historically been up to 300% more productive than unmodified beaches, that their clams grew larger and faster than average, and that the clams did not exhibit any signs of resource stress from over-harvesting.

“To create the beaches, indigenous people built rock walls parallel to a beach’s low tide line, which would trap sediment and flatten the slope of the shore. With continuing tending, such as tilling to improve aeration and the removal of predators like sea stars, these gardens increase or create habitat for butter, littleneck, and horse clams, as well as crabs, chitons, seaweeds, and other useful species.

“Recent carbon dating has revealed that the oldest clam garden known to science was built about 3,500 years ago. …

“ ‘It has always been our duty to be the stewards of the land,’ says group member Nicole Norris, a knowledge holder for the Hul’q’umi’num and an aquaculture specialist. ‘It is the exact same land my ancestors walked. … From the work that we’ve done, we’ve seen the greater ecosystem return – some of the people who live in the local communities have talked about the return of certain birds and plants, and that’s been heartwarming,’ she says.

“In addition to providing food, clam gardens have historically provided the opportunity for ‘grandparents, aunties, and uncles to spend time at the beach with their grandchildren and younger generations, not only teaching about how to tend the environment … but sharing stories, language, spiritual ties to the place,’ says Melissa Poe, who specializes in the social and cultural dimensions of ecosystems at the University of Washington.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: C.J. Chivers
Andrade’s Catch has been buying clams from a rotating group of fisherman to keep revenue flowing to quahoggers.

My friends in Minnesota and Wisconsin have perhaps not been asking themselves, “How are the quahoggers doing these days?” but on the coast, a few journalists are checking in on the folks who provide our seafood.

C. J. Chivers (a New York Times writer who sells clams but has no connection to the shop in this story) reports about a lifeline for clam diggers.

“Lou Frattarelli eased his flatbed truck into the loading zone at Andrade’s Catch, a small seafood shop in [Bristol] on Narragansett Bay. … He had four sacks of quahogs to sell, raked on the still-running tide from the bottom of the bay.

“Davy Andrade, one of the shop owners, met him at the door. Mr. Andrade was buying, one of the few shellfish dealers in the state still employing clammers and bringing a local seafood staple to residents.

“ ‘What do you want me doing tomorrow?’ Mr. Frattarelli asked, hoping for one more day’s pay.

“ ‘Another 500, if you can,’ Mr. Andrade answered.

“Five hundred littlenecks is far fewer clams than an experienced quahogger can rake in a day from the rich waters around Prudence Island, where Mr. Frattarelli had been working. But in the age of the coronavirus, it amounted to a boon.

“Many fishing ports across the United States, long imperiled and struggling under strict regulations and the declines of valuable fish and shellfish stocks, have fallen even quieter in the pandemic. …

“Until two weeks ago, much of the East Coast’s daily harvest of wild clams was channeled through wholesale buyers to restaurants and raw bars, many of them in New York City. When bars and restaurants were closed, wholesalers stopped buying.

“In Rhode Island, where state regulations forbid quahoggers from selling clams directly to consumers, the result is that the fleet has all but stopped working — even though catches were high and people, wary of going into crowded and picked-over grocery stores, are eager for healthy meals. …

“Andrade’s Catch has managed to support quahog sales, at least at a small scale. While the shop does a robust wholesale business, it also runs a retail shop out front. By shifting operations almost entirely to retail, it has kept a few boats on the water.

“ ‘I’ve got about six guys I am buying from,’ Mr. Andrade said, and he rotates their days. ‘We want to keep the guys going.’ …

“Said David Andrade, Davy’s father and a co-founder of the shop with his wife, ‘I’ve been telling the diggers, take it easy, wait for the restaurants to come back, [but in] all reality, you’ve got to make $200 a day to pay for the boat.’ …

“A town resident donated $600 to provide free clams to Andrade’s Catch customers. The donation became the impetus for a retail special: Anyone spending $24 or more on seafood this week received 24 free clams. …

“Mr. Andrade’s fiancée, Victoria Young, [encourages] shoppers to place orders by phone and to collect purchases curbside — reducing traffic in the store and potential dangers to the customers and staff.

“Between customers, Ms. Young sprays and wipes anything they might touch — the counters, the A.T.M. and the frame, glass and handles of the front door. …

“ ‘We were supposed to get married next week,’ she said, looking at Davy. ‘We’ve postponed it.’ ”

Read what some Rhode Island quahoggers are saying about the future, here.

 

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Photo: Tim McDonnell /for NPR 
Samuel-Richard Bogobley holds a GPS-enabled tablet to capture the location of one corner of an underwater clam “farm.” Collecting data is the first step in protecting indigenous livelihoods.

I love reading about how people around the world come up with constructive ways to use technology. This story is about clam farmers in Africa enlisting GPS data as a first step in protecting indigenous rights.

Writes Tim McDonnell at National Public Radio, “Samuel-Richard Bogobley is wearing a bright orange life vest and leaning precariously over the edge of a fishing canoe on the Volta River estuary, a gorgeous wildlife refuge where Ghana’s biggest river meets the Gulf of Guinea.

“He’s looking for a bamboo rod poking a couple feet above the surface. When he finds it, he holds out a computer tablet and taps the screen. Then he motions for the captain to move the boat forward as he scans the water for the next rod. …

” ‘Before you can start to recognize a fishery, you need to have a lot of data,’ says Bogobley, a researcher with Hen Mpoano, a Ghanaian nonprofit that supports small-scale fishers. ‘These people don’t have any platform to fight for what is theirs.’

“The Volta River is rich with clams, harvested year-round by a bustling community of several hundred fishermen and women. The meat is packaged for sale across West Africa, while the shells are ground into an additive for whitewash and chicken feed.

“The riverbed itself is divided into intricate real-estate parcels, each one an underwater clam ‘farm’ with its own caretaker.

“The farms have become a flashpoint in a broader conflict over the land rights of indigenous peoples in Africa: The clam fishers have no legal claim to their farms, and are under increasing pressure as they compete for prime real estate with the booming tourism industry and cope with the impacts of climate change. …

“[Clam farmer Kofi] Amatey spends most of every day working here about ten feet below the surface, gathering clams into a basket. Wearing eye goggles and a weighted belt, he breathes through a makeshift scuba apparatus that pumps air from a compressor on his canoe.

“It’s a subsistence living: Amatey estimates that he earns less than $1,000 per year. And in recent years, it’s gotten even harder.

“A crop of new luxury resort hotels now crowd the riverbanks, forcing the clam fishers off of land where they used to live, dock canoes and process clams. Tourists’ speedboats and jet skis churn the water, threatening to topple the narrow dugout canoes loaded with clams. …

“Without a formal, legal claim to the clam farms, Amatey and his neighbors say they have no way to protect themselves from hoteliers and other developers who acquire deeds from the government. …

“Many indigenous land rights lack protection because of a scarcity of data. …

“That’s where the GPS tablets come in. A growing number of research groups and international aid organizations are rolling out software aimed at making it easier for anyone with a tablet or smartphone to accurately map community-held land and record basic information about its proprietors. This data alone doesn’t offer any legal protection, but it’s an essential starting place.”

More here.

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An editorial in the NY Times earlier this month praised the efforts of a Long Island organization committed to rescuing a lovely, endangered body of water.

The editorial said that in Shinnecock Bay, “pollution from fertilizer and septic runoff feeds frequent algae blooms that block oxygen and sunlight. …  Once-lush beds of eelgrass, shelter for the little fish that feed bigger ones, have largely disappeared from the western part of the bay.”

But there is hope. “What Shinnecock Bay has going for it are scientists working to restore its waters and tidal flats to health. The Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program, run by Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and its Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, means to fix the problem, not just study it.

“The institute’s executive director, Dr. Ellen Pikitch, said a big part of the job was as simple as replanting eelgrass and seeding the bay with clams and oysters, which filter the water clean and make the bay better able to fend for itself. …  Local officials were doing their part by agreeing to close sections of the bay to shellfishing.”

More on what is being done now and ideas for even bigger efforts here. The program could serve as a model for sustainability elsewhere in the world. And we can all do our bit by using less fertilizer and thinking first before putting pollutants down our drains.

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