Authorities in Rhode Island are currently investigating the cause of the declining population of quahog clams.

Researchers, legislators, and individuals who depend on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island are collaborating to investigate the cause behind the apparent decrease in quahog populations.

The state has a rich background with quahogs. The shells of these large, tough clams were utilized by the native Narragansett tribe as wampum. Quahogs are a popular ingredient in clam chowders and were officially named the “Rhode Island State Shell” by the Rhode Island Legislature in 1987.

A hearing was held on Tuesday by a specific legislative commission in Rhode Island to investigate the decreased catch. The commission is examining various potential factors that could be causing a decline in the notable shellfish, such as lack of oxygen, changes in aquatic life, and climate change.

Quahogs — also known as little necks or cherry stones or chowder clams — are filter feeders drawing nutrients out of water columns. They don’t move much other than the first 2 to 3 weeks of their lives when they are larvae, according to Conor McManus, of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

In mid-June, Quahogs typically begin to spawn in coves along Narragansett Bay and continue throughout the season. A second significant spawning may also occur in July.

The quahog harvest reached its highest point in the 1950s, but was subsequently banned due to dredging. However, in the 1980s, there was another peak caused by an increase in water quality in the upper bay.

McManus stated that there has been a significant decrease since that time.

The number of individuals attempting to harvest quahogs has decreased over time, from a peak of over 1,000 people to around 400 people a decade ago, and now to only 150-200 people, according to the speaker.

McManus explained that the search for a solution to the decrease in quahog population is a complicated matter. For instance, he cited potential factors that could lead to a decrease in oxygen levels in the water.

Usually, hypoxia events are viewed as harmful for organisms. However, there is an alternative hypothesis that suggests these occurrences could actually benefit quahogs by deterring potential predators.

According to him, throughout a quahog’s lifespan, there is a significant amount of unpredictability.

According to Jim Boyd, a shellfisherman, the amount of quahogs being harvested from Narragansett Bay has decreased by more than half in the past ten years. He and other individuals who depend on quahogs are seeking explanations for this decline.

According to the industry, it is evident that the main cause for the decline is the decrease in nutrients necessary for quahogs to flourish, as stated by the source.

“We urge the department and universities to prioritize this issue as our industry has been greatly affected in the past decade and we fear that this trend will persist in the future,” stated Boyd. “We have observed a gradual decrease in the number of quahogs in the bay.”

McManus reports that other states on the Atlantic coast have also seen decreases in quahogs, oysters, bay scallops, and soft-shell clams.

Rewritten: Quahogs consume plankton, making them crucial to the ecosystem. Plankton feeds on nitrates that cannot be filtered by water treatment plants. As a result, quahogs serve as a natural means of purifying water and are also highly desired as a food source.

The committee is responsible for submitting their findings to legislators before May 31, 2024.