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A Resource to Protect: The Environment

"Aqua culture" refers to the purposeful propagation of shellfish and is much like farming. Clams reproduce by means of free-floating seed called spat, which, if left alone, will eventually drop down to the sand to begin growing. This spat can be collected and transferred to a flat for cultivation. Flats where clams have been reseeded are typically given extra protection from predators and are not dug upon until the stock has matured.

Clam Constable Examines Young Clams
From Franklyn Goucher's Memoirs: Daniel Pierce, Essex County Shellfish Supervisor in the 1950s, kneeling inside fence erected around First Mud Flat, showing inch-long clams saved from predators. Complete cost of fence was $405. At least $100,000 worth of clams were harvested there. Courtesy of the Essex Historical Society.


Dave Sargent

“Because shell fisheries are receiving uneven pressure because of the impacts from rainfall closures and other closures, there’s a lot of interest in municipal shellfish stock enhancement. And we’ve had a lot of dedicated volunteers in Gloucester who have been involved in that, naturally capturing free-floating spat in the natural environment and seeding in areas. Other communities have started doing that as well. We tend to call it public aquaculture, because it’s for the public benefit. But then there’s private aquaculture as well. The intertidal zone is under colonial ordinances — the public’s rights are still preserved for fishing, fowling and navigating, and that includes shell fishing. And we are looking at potentially allowing private aquaculture in areas where there hasn’t been a historical harvest of shellfish. - Dave Sargent

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John and Jack Grundstrom
Rowley Netting Project
Three Grundstrom clam diggers examine the progress of these clam beds in Rowley, where netting has been used to prevent predator access to the growing stock. Courtesy of John E. Grundstrom.

John: Since I’ve been clamming -- I probably started in 1965—the only time we’ve ever propagated flats, we started about eight years ago.  And now it’s been an ongoing and hopefully forever thing.

Jack: We got started out with eight nets that we got from Salem State College, Cat Cove Works, and we tried them to see what they would do down there.  We found out they work fantastically.  So the next year, Cat Cove come up with some money for us to buy thirty-six nets. We put sixteen—two on each—sixteen different places, to find out where they work best, and then we

’ve been doing that ever since.  And we just went before the Selectmen night before last to get $4,000 to buy ten rolls of nets, and the buoys, and everything we needed to expand the program.  And so, we work at it constantly.

John: And almost all the nets we put out are for non-commercial clammers. They’re for the local people that can only dig like twenty quarts of clams at a time.  The commercial guys, we’re not allowed to go in there.  It’ll say non-commercial.  But the best thing is that all the clams that aren’t dug up get bigger and throw seed everywhere, all over the Rowley River. 

Jack: A clam left by itself will throw three million spat a year.  So the more clams you get down, the more seed that throws, the more that we’ll catch, and the more clams you can propagate.

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A Resource to Protect: The Environment