Oysters find new home in Kickemuit River

Approximately 50,000 released in Chase Cove Friday in ongoing restoration effort

By Ted Hayes
Posted 8/1/19

They’ve been gone for many years, but with any luck and some time oysters will return to the Kickekmuit River, where 50,000 of them were released Friday.

The small seed oysters, each about …

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Oysters find new home in Kickemuit River

Approximately 50,000 released in Chase Cove Friday in ongoing restoration effort

Posted

They’ve been gone for many years, but with any luck and some time oysters will return to the Kickekmuit River, where 50,000 of them were released Friday.

The small seed oysters, each about an inch in size, were scattered just before noon in Chase Cove, a small cove just north of Touisset Point. They were released throughout the cove by locals and researchers and students from Roger Williams University, who have been working to re-introduce the species in Narragansett Bay and other Rhode Island waters for years.

“The habitat looks good,” said Matthew Griffin, a university researcher who works in the school’s aquaculture program with Dr. Dale Leavitt.

“It’s a little out of the way so there’s not much fishing pressure” and freshwater runoff from the adjacent Audubon wildlife refuge is also a positive, he said.

Friday’s oysters lived an interesting life prior to their release last week. Grown from tiny “spat” size in the university’s laboratories, they were transferred to Warren’s upweller tank at the Town Wharf more than a year ago. Last fall, they were taken out and returned to the university, where they grew large enough to release over the winter. Many of those released Friday were attached to larger oyster shells or sea clams, which should give them a solid foundation as they grow big enough to harvest and hopefully, reproduce and spread.

The release was not the first time Warren and Roger Williams have collaborated. The two first partnered in 2015 to found the first-ever municipal oyster operation in the Ocean State, after Woody Kemp the Harbor Commission traveled to the Upper Cape and saw a similar program there.

He, Warren Harbormaster Ed Cabral and others began speaking to Dr. Leavitt soon after, and together they built the large upweller tank at the wharf. It uses uses pumps to draw in Warren River water 24 hours a day, giving the tiny baby filter feeders a constant source of nutrients and allowing them to grow at a much faster rate than they would in the wild.
Warren’s first batch of more than 30,000 seed oysters were released at Jacob’s Point in November 2016. By the following autumn, evidence of their return was easy to spot.

Researchers hope for the same at Chase Cove. Oysters were once one of the bay’s most abundant species of shellfish, but pollution, runoff and other factors decimated them and the lucrative shellfishing industry that grew around them in the 1800s and early 1900s. The Kickemuit had long had its own oyster colonies which also vanished, and for many years the river has been considered too compromised to try and re-introduce them. Over the past 10 to 15 years, though, the river’s health has improved enough to give it a try, Mr. Griffin said.

“We had identified the Kickemuit River” as a possible transplant site, Mr. Griffin said, and DEM had as well.

If all goes as planned, a decent percentage of the oysters will survive long enough to grow big enough to spread and reproduce. Researchers will be watching them in the coming months, and Mr. Griffin said he is hopeful.

As for the Town Wharf upweller, it was removed to make way for a major reconstruction of the town wharf seawall. Mr. Cabral said it will be reinstalled as soon as that work wraps up, and another batch of tiny seed oysters will make a waystop in downtown Warren on their way to Rhode Island’s open waters.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.