The East Hampton Town Trustees’ recent review of a disruptive form of shellfish harvesting was overdue. There have long been quiet concerns among some observers that powering, or churning, for soft-shelled clams, or steamers, did more harm than good.
The method is an aggressive form of shellfishing in which a small, gas-powered outboard motor mounted on a sort of sled is used to rapidly turn over a swathe of bay or harbor bottom, allowing the exposed clams to be picked up by hand. In the process, the small clams that could be next year’s crop are exposed to predators, including ravenous and ever-present sea gulls. As a result, the delicate habitat on which a whole chain of natural life depends is disrupted. Traditionally, soft clams are harvested by hand in a far-less intrusive manner. Powering is allowed by the state only for soft clams, but at the very least the practice should be re-examined in light of environmental concerns.
In a vote taken last month, the trustees halted powering for the rest of this year. Failing solid evidence that the method is benign, the ban should be made permanent.