The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has introduced a mandatory education and certification program for commercial harvesters of wild shellfish.
A DEM press release describes the new program as one that will enhance the safety of shellfish sold to consumers.
“The goal of the program is to ensure that shellfish harvesters deliver a safe product to shellfish dealers and, in turn, to shellfish consumers,” the written statement reads.
All commercial wild shellfishing license-holders will have to comply with the new certification, beginning this year.
“The certification requirement applies to both license/permit renewals and new licenses/permits, beginning in 2018,” the DEM statement reads. “All certificates are valid for five years, after which re-certification will be required.”
Those affected by the new regulation are: All holders of commercial shellfish licenses, including principal effort licenses and commercial fishing licenses with quahog, soft-shell clam, and/or shellfish other endorsements, over 65 [years old] shellfish licenses, and student shellfish licenses and shellfish harvesters who hold both multi-purpose licenses and shellfish landing permits.
Robert Rheault, president of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, said he introduced a certification and education program to his members two years ago. One of the challenges for the aquaculture industry in recent years has been the need to take precautions against vibrio, a serious shellfish disease.
“I developed one for the aquaculture community,” he said. “I’ve become the vibrio evangelist and I run up and down the coast delivering my one-hour talk on what the rules are. There’s a lot of other regulations that the harvesters and the aquaculturists need to comply with — tagging and reporting and all these other things.”
Rheault said he had reviewed the first draft of the state program two years ago and had found it lacking.
“It was asinine and insulting in terms of the cartoonish, childish nature of the instructional material,” he said. “If you insult somebody that often that early, you’re going to lose their attention, so I tried to get them to amp it up a little bit, raise the bar. I have not seen the final product, so I can’t say whether they listened to my recommendations or not.”
Nevertheless, Rheault said he welcomed the new state program because it will articulate what is expected of wild shellfish harvesters.
“If you want to have a compliant harvesting community you’ve got to tell them what the rules are and you can’t expect them to know unless you have a mandatory program,” he said. “I’m all in favor of it. I’ve got the brochures, I’ve got the Power Points, I’m a full participant.”
People wanting additional information on the certification program can contact Bob Ballou in the DEM Director’s Office at Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 401-222-4700 ext. 4420.