By LAURA WEICK In the words of several officials and shellfishermen, Warwick is the quahog capital of the world. According to Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon, the $4 million in quahog dock sales generates $24 million in economic benefits to the state.
In the words of several officials and shellfishermen, Warwick is the quahog capital of the world.
According to Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon, the $4 million in quahog dock sales generates $24 million in economic benefits to the state.
Quahogging also has secondary economic effects, such as when shellfishermen need to purchase equipment, boat fuel and other supplies, which boosts the economy beyond the fishing industry.
Mike McGivney, president of the Rhode Island Shellfisherman's Association (RISA), added that 60 percent of shellfish harvested in the state come from Warwick waters, and 40 percent of RISA membership comes from Warwick. Warwick’s two main commercial quahogging centers are in Apponaug and Warwick Cove, and Warwick has 39 of the state’s 384 miles of coastline.
The significance of shellfishing to the Warwick economy was highlighted Tuesday morning as the city unveiled a sign promoting Warwick’s shellfishing history at Oakland Beach commons. The sign is part of the Rhode Island Fishing Heritage Trail, a project that installs signs throughout the state to educate about fishing history in Rhode Island. The signs are funded by the Rhode Island Foundation, the towns of Narragansett and Bristol and the Newport Fiserhmen’s Cooperative.
“The sign is part of Rhode Island’s fishing heritage of shellfish, and all different species of fish, and what it brings to our economy and ecosystem,” Solomon said.
Quahogging has a long history in Rhode Island. When the Hurricane of 1938 wrecked the oyster industry, shellfishermen dug for quahogs as an alternative. At its peak in the 1980s, over 3,000 quahogging boats could be found in the bay, according to the sign. Today, the quahogging industry has declined due to changing regulations, demographics and economy, but those dedicated to the practice are motivated to continue the tradition.
Quahogging is a physically demanding task, especially since mechanical means are prohibited by law. Quahoggers use bullrakes to scrape the bottom of the Narragansett Bay for clams, but may also walk waist-deep into water with a rake or their hands in search of quahogs.
Don Rodrigues was a professional quahogger before opening Don Rodrigues Karate Academy in Warwick. He spoke about how he would dig through frozen waters to catch quahogs in the winter, while withstanding pressing heat in the summer. His sister, City Councilwoman Donna Travis, often served as his picker, or the person who sorted through caught clams to determine which were a good enough quality to keep.
“When you’re a full time shellfisher, you have to be a disciplined person who goes out every day for the best shellfish,” Rodrigues said. “It was hard, hard work.”
Quahogging also calls for a significant time commitment.
“You may see us leave early, come in by noon and you think we're done,” Warwick Harbor Management Commission Chairman and quahogger Jody King said. “The job doesn't finish when we hit the dock. We still sometimes have to sell our clams, get our boats prepared for the next day which means going to the gas station, going to get oil, going to get ice this time of year to have on our boats that we have to have it this time of year when it's 95 degrees.”
King said quahogging has enabled him to pay off the mortgage to the Oakland Beach house he has lived in for nearly 30 years.
“We have great opportunities here as shellfishermen here in Warwick,” King said. “This is my livelihood. I grew up here, Mike [McGivney] and I both went to college at [the University of Rhode Island], we do not have to do this for a living. But this is a gift to all of us who get to do this for a living, to enjoy that.”
Travis recalled quahogging with her husband, family and brother, Rodrigues, growing up. She joked about how she loved handraking, even if it took longer than bullraking and was messier. Regardless, she always respects those who quahog for a living.
“ I have nothing but the highest respect for all quahoggers or anybody who goes out there because it is the hardest job,” Travis said. “Getting up in the morning, seven days a week, all year long.”
No license for recreational shellfishing is required for Rhode Island residents, although commercial shellfishermen must be licensed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
“Every Rhode Island that has the inalienable right to go to the coastline, each and every day and dig a pack of clams,” King said.