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Fathers, Sons and the Last of the Wild Shellfishermen

by Ray Huling

Pub Date: July 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7627-7042-7
Publisher: Globe Pequot

In an in-depth study of the Rhode Island shellfishing community where he was raised, a journalist celebrates the lives of his father and grandfather and probes the nature of sustainability.

Huling describes the physically demanding life of these fishermen who haul the hard-shell clams, known as quahogs, from the depths of Narragansett Bay by using long-handled tools called bullrakes. In the author’s opinion, the sustainable lifestyle of the bullraker represents a model for a radical shift that must take place in how our society values hard physical labor. He is not offering practical proposals for returning production to the methods of hundreds of years ago, nor did he choose to emulate his father, who ended his life in a wheelchair. However, he writes, it “is a happy thing for a son to hear stories of his father's physical prowess.” The author provides many colorful stories about the fishermen and the turf battles between men who dive from boats and bullrakers who fish from their skiffs. He chronicles the history of the quahog, including its name and the difference in its pronunciation in Rhode Island versus Cape Cod, but he mainly focuses on the many competing priorities involved in sound ecosystem management. These include enclosing sections of the bay contaminated by sewage runoff (though there is still the possibility of depuration of quahogs taken from polluted waters), regulating how the fish are harvested by licensing (prohibition of dredging, limitations on the daily catch), and dealing with the competitive threat of large-scale aquaculture.

A thoughtful examination of the implications of sustainability.