Shellfish Restoration Projects Revive Buzzards Bay

Last month The Nature Conservancy and Bourne, Mass., municipal shellfish officials released 7,500 caged adult bay scallops. (©Lauren Owens)

Last month The Nature Conservancy and Bourne, Mass., municipal shellfish officials released 7,500 caged adult bay scallops. (©Lauren Owens)

By ecoRI News staff

BOURNE, Mass. — Buzzards Bay recreational fishermen may soon have access to improved scallop, oyster and quahog populations in town waters for recreational harvests, thanks to settlement funding being used by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and The Nature Conservancy to restore natural resources injured by a 2003 oil spill near the bay’s entrance.

In April 2003, the Bouchard Transportation Co. Barge-120 spilled about 98,000 gallons of fuel oil into Buzzards Bay. The oil spread along more than 90 miles of shoreline and affected wildlife, shellfish beds, recreational activities and habitat. Eight years later, natural resource agencies secured a $6 million settlement to restore wildlife, shoreline and aquatic resources and lost recreational uses.

With the settlement money, the Buzzards Bay/Bouchard B-120 Trustee Council — the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and state agencies from Massachusetts and Rhode Island — has funded 26 projects. Nature Conservancy bay scallop and oyster restoration projects and Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries quahog and oyster restoration work are among the recently funded projects. These restoration efforts are targeting recreational shellfisheries within the impacted Buzzards Bay communities.

“Recreational shellfisheries were tragically affected by the Bouchard spill, with some municipal harvesting areas closed for six months or longer during the peak harvest season due to the oiling,” said John Bullard, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region.

The two settlement-funded conservancy shellfish projects are underway. In early June, the conservancy, in collaboration with Bourne municipal shellfish officials, deployed 7,500 caged adult bay scallops in town waters. The goal is to create a spawner sanctuary as an effective way of restoring sustainable bay scallop populations and supporting seasonal recreational shellfishing.

“Bay scallops are a historically and culturally significant species,” said Steve Kirk, the conservancy’s Massachusetts coastal restoration ecologist. “While populations have always fluctuated, we want to bring them back by creating spawner areas to ultimately boost the wild population.”

In collaboration with the town of Fairhaven, the conservancy is using additional settlement money to restore a 1-acre oyster bed in Nasketucket Bay.

The Buzzards Bay Coalition is supporting the scallop and oyster restoration work by securing project volunteers and hosting outdoor educational opportunities focused on this shellfish restoration work.

Also funded by the settlement are projects led by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, including multiyear hard clam (quahog) relay and oyster restoration projects. This work involves moving adult quahog stock from an area closed to shellfishing in the Taunton River to designated transplant sites in the waters of Bourne, Dartmouth, Gosnold, Marion, Mattapoisett, New Bedford, Wareham and Westport.

Upwellers for nursery grow-out will be installed and juvenile quahogs will be outplanted in Dartmouth, Wareham and Fairhaven. Outplanting of single field-plant-sized oysters will also take place in Bourne, Marion and Wareham.

The goals of the Division of Marine Fisheries-led projects are to increase overall municipal quahog populations and enhance recreational shellfisheries.

“Boosting the local quahog stocks for local recreational fishermen will be a tangible benefit to those impacted by the spill,” said Division of Marine Fisheries director David Pierce. “Once the transplanted clams are certified clean and held for at least one spawning season after a minimum of six months from relocation, fishermen will have access to this crop. We hope there will be increased quahog reproduction from these transplants, resulting in increased and sustainable harvests from their progeny in the future.”