Recently, I spent the day with local conservationists and volunteers getting a little muddy digging trenches and planting about 54,000 baby clams in the mud flats around Boston’s Thompson Island. This restoration effort to plant clams in Boston Harbor was hosted by the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), the City of Boston and Mayor Thomas Menino, and the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center.
These groups have collaborated on this softshell clam propagation project designed to educate participants on the historic and current role shellfish play in the economy and ecology of Boston Harbor while enhancing the existing softshell clam resource on Boston’s intertidal flats.
Softshell clam enhancement involves distributing juvenile clams, known as “seed,” across the intertidal mudflats. We dug trenches to secure one edge of each net, folded the nets back, and raked the mud to remove any crabs that would eat the clam seed. Then we covered the clam seed with nets, which will stay in place until they further mature for a few months. My group had good teamwork, with some digging trenches, and others raking the mudflats and removing crabs and large rocks. Out there with our hands in the mud, it was a unique way to experience the Boston Harbor Islands.
Softshell clams, or “steamers,” are harvested from Boston Harbor year-round. Softshell clam populations have declined in Boston Harbor in recent years, leading to a larger initiative that involves six Boston Harbor municipalities: Boston, Hingham, Hull, Quincy, Weymouth and Winthrop, community volunteers, and commercial shellfishers. Since 2006, over five million clams have been seeded at over 28 sites in the harbor. The seeding at Thompson Island was the first site in Boston.
Many enthusiastic volunteers from Thompson Island Outward Bound’s Green Corps, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, UMass Boston’s Green Harbor Project, Salem State University and interested members of the public assisted in this effort. The project is also supported by the National Park Service and UMass Boston, attracting and educating visitors to the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreational Area. DMF Director Paul Diodati and DMF Shellfish Biologist Jeff Kennedy and their staff did a great job leading the state’s efforts.
Next year, we hope to work with the City of Boston and other partners to expand the effort to other Boston flats. We’ll be looking for volunteers to help us again. It’s a terrific way to get outside, learn about shellfish, visit some of our beautiful Boston Harbor beaches and contribute to both the ecology and shellfishery in Boston Harbor.