Photo Essay



Clamming with Molly Benjamin

In October 2005 I had the opportunity to go "clammin" with legendary Wellfleet shellfisherperson and widely read Cape Cod Times columnist Molly Benjamin and her friend Steve. We took advantage of favorable weather and a big "moon" tide as this was a trip to work on Molly's shellfish grant on Egg Island in the middle of Wellfleet Harbor. We met at the Wellfleet Marina about 3PM, donned our waders and loaded up Molly's 19' Carolina Skiff to head out to the grant. Timing is key as Egg Island is under water 90% of the time and only emerges for an hour or two during the "minus" low tides at the new moon and full moon. (There is an 11' tide drop at that time in Wellfleet Harbor of the largest on the east Coast. Here we are rounding Shirttail Pt on the way out.

Molly is standing on Egg Island trying to locate her grant. The "island is still under water and the tide is going out. Chequessett Neck and Powers Landing are visible about a half mile away.

The tide is out and we are first raking up some baskets of harshell (quahog) clams that have matured to harvestable size (littleneck or cherrystone). These were planted as seed clams the year before. Molly's grant is about 2 acres in size. There are dozens of grants on Egg Island. It is one of the most productive shellfish beds in Massachusetts. Shellfishing (including 'wild' gathering, dragging from boats and 'farming' on grants) represents a multimillion dollar business in Wellfleet, rivaling the hospitality business.

Here is the result of our raking for an hour or two. Molly raises mostly hardshell clams (quahogs) on her grant. Oysters are easily the most valuable local aquaculture species, but softshell (steamer) clams, sea clams, scallops, mussels and razor clams all can be had in the Wellfleet area. A license is required.

The second job was to distribute the current year's crop of juvenile clams onto rectangular beds and then cover them with fine netting anchored with rebar hooks. These clams are 2 years old and are about the size of your thumbnail. Earlier in the spring the 'seed' clams (smaller than your little fingernail) were set out in trays where they grew over the summer. Now they go into the sand beds loose to grow to harvestable size next year. The netting keeps them from getting washed away by ice floes and winter storms and keeps the predators off the juvenile quahogs. Here Molly is inspecting the beds under the early evening moonlight.

As the tide comes back in Steve moves the skiff closer to the baskets we will load on board. Keep in mind that the tide is now rising about one foot every half hour. Great Island is in the background.

Here we are loaded up and ready to return to the pier.

Time to head back.

I made two more trips to work on Molly's grant before the Great Storm of December 05 hit. I learned it is alot of hard work to raise shellfish on grants and there are many perils before the harvest is in your mesh bags on the way to market. But it is also a special place to be on a moonlight night in the late Fall.

Dick Nicholson

Copyright 2005


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