Seatuck intern Julie Bozzo helped out with the Town of Brookhaven's annual clam survey this summer. She filed the following report on her experience on the clam survey barge:
The Town of Brookhaven has been conducting shellfish surveys, particularly for hard shell clams, for the last 31years, beginning in 1985. These surveys contain data on clam population demographics in a variety of geographic points in the Great South Bay. Unfortunately, due to poor water quality and overharvesting, the clam population sizes have severely decreased over the course of this survey. The hope is that clam numbers will rebound by restricting where fisherman can harvest them.
The surveys take place from a barge, on which is a crane used to sample the bay bottom sediment. The crane is dropped twice at each location. The sediment is classified based upon the amount of sand, silt, rocks, or mud it contains. The crane releases the sediment in to a metal sieve. The sieve contains three metal trays, each with progressively smaller openings to sort the material. The trays are about 5 feet in length, and 3 feet in width. The sides of the trays are raised approximately 4 inches to prevent anything from falling out. The sediment is rinsed away using a hose that has bay water pumping through it. When the trays are cleaned, they are removed from the sieve and searched for living hard shell clams, razor clams, soft shell clams, mussels, and predators, such as moon snails or crabs. Hard shell clams were measured for length and width; all other organisms were accounted for simply based on the total number present. After the trays were cleared of clams, the remaining organisms and empty shells were dumped back in to the bay. The removed clams were returned to the bay immediately after their measurements were taken. As the trays were being searched, the barge moved on to the next site.
I volunteered on the barge for two days in July, and found that the second day yielded a larger variety of clams in terms of size. On this day we were surveying near the Bellport Inlet. We found young clams the size of a fingernail, and older ones that measured a few inches across. This was a positive sign for us. The presence of young clams indicated that the water quality near the new inlet is able to support a developing population of clams, and other organisms for that matter. On the first day, we visited 27 sites and on the second day we visited 30 sites. The barge had a driver, a crane operator, 4-6 people pulling and sifting through the trays, one person hosing down the sediment, and one person measuring the clams and tracking our location.
This was a great experience to have had the opportunity to partake in. Considering how essential the shellfish harvest is expecting to become in the future, it was interesting to see the state that it is currently in so close to home. I am grateful that Seatuck Environmental Association enables me to attend such excursions, and I am thankful to the Town of Brookhaven for including me in their study.
Seatuck Environmental Association Intern
University of Rhode Island ‘17