Shellfishing in Southeastern Connecticut

23 01 2017

bluff-point-beachAs I drove into Bluff Point State Park to meet my hiking group, I was surprised to see that the lot was full. Last week when we came here, there were a handful of cars, while today maybe fifty. As I unpacked my bag, I noticed that people were carrying various equipment, rakes, and buckets. They appeared to be checking in with a man in a truck over near the trail head, so I walked over to see what this was all about.

It turns out that it’s shellfishing season in southeastern Connecticut, and the Town of Groton’s warden was checking people’s equipment and catch. The weathered man gave me a copy of shellfishing regulations; we are in the Poquonnock River area, with an all-year open season.

One of the participants was returning from his morning and I asked him a few questions. He showed me his rake, with knife-like tines an inch apart and a basket to gather what he’d harvested. He took about two and a half hours to reach his maximum, which is a peck (about two gallons). What a quaint use of an antiquated term! He showed me that the clams had to be retained in a two-inch ring, while the oysters were measured in a three-inch ring. He suggested wearing chest waders, and even then his feet were cold.

The harvesters used a wide range of contraptions to carry their equipment along a mile or so of sandy road to reach the waters. “How often do you come?” I asked one of them. “Oh, as often as I can.” “What do you do with your catch?” I ask another. “Do you sell them?” “Oh, no, can’t do that.” I found it fascinating that these people would spent two to three hours out in frigid conditions in the middle of January to gather a bucket full of shellfish. Hardy souls!

As I was driving out of the park, I marveled at my luck and was grateful for living here in Connecticut and having the flexibility to go on hikes and experience so many things, like shellfishing. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a Red-breasted Merganser foraging close to shore. By the time I stopped and took its photo, he was already high-tailing it for safety in deeper waters. What a sweet departing gift!