By Stan Fisher, NH Register Correspondent, POSTED: 03/04/10
CLINTON — For the first time in more than a decade, commercial shellfishermen will be able to work the oyster beds for which Clinton was known around the world.
After four years of diligent effort to restore some of the beds, the town’s Shellfish Commission told selectmen it is ready to award its first commercial shellfish leases for a 10-acre area in the Hammock River.
“It’s been a long time coming,” First Selectman William Fritz said of the commission’s work.
The Shellfish Commission, which had to restore itself as a viable entity before beginning work to restore the town’s commercial and recreational shellfishing, in 2006 laid out a multi-year plan for reseeding the beds with the shell necessary for the oysters to grow and with shellfish seed.
A disease of unknown origin killed off most of the shellfish population in Clinton waters in the late 1990s, effectively ending both commercial and recreational shellfishing.
But by the summer of 2006, healthy oysters, possibly a disease-resistant species, were found in the rivers that feed into Clinton Harbor and the shellfish commission — as have their counterparts in Guilford and Madison — began working to create an environment in which oysters can thrive.
The work was funded by town and state grants of more than $50,000, and commission Chairman Wayne Church told selectmen the results are evident in the Hammock River.
“It seems there are a fair number of oysters in there,” he said. “It’s difficult to get to … so we didn’t put a lot of seed there, but the oysters are there.”
Church explained that the commission would like to issue commercial licenses in the Hammock River for a trial period of two years, at a cost of 50 cents a lineal foot of oyster bed. The commission is still debating whether to license the Hammock as one bed or split it up, he noted.
The Hammock qualifies as a restricted relay bed, which means that oysters taken from the Hammock must first be relayed to an approved bed for a period of time in which they will “purify themselves,” after which they will be ready for marketing.
The awarding of the first leases is seen as a way to officially activate the town’s commercial shellfish beds as a prelude to the restoration of recreational shellfish beds, including those off the town beach, he told selectmen.
Eventually, the commission wants to identify the shellfish lots, register the beds and value them, and hold a lottery every quarter in which pre-registered shellfishermen can draw for licenses that are available.