Sarah Schumann’s Shellfish Heritage Tour

Rhode Island’s Shellfish Heritage: Readings from author, Sarah Schumann

Author Sarah Schumann is herself a razor clam harvester.

Author Sarah Schumann is herself a razor clam harvester.

Author, Sarah Schumann read passages and shared her experiences writing,“Rhode Island’s Shellfish Heritage: An Ecological History,” to locals at the Coffee Depot in Warren on February 18.

The book, which was conceived and published by Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Coastal Institute, and the Coastal Resources Center, was recognized by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and awarded the Innovation Award, for the “powerful use of the humanities to connect cross-sector stakeholders.”

It took Schumann nearly a year to write, with over 50 interviews from Rhode Island shellfishermen, growers, conservationists, artists, and others to gain perspective on the progression shellfish and their uses in the Ocean State, with some surprises.

“I had always thought of Rhode Island as primarily a ‘quahog state,’ but in reality, it’s only been that way for 60 or 70 years,” she said, referring to the historical abundance of commercially sold Rhode Island oysters in the 19th and early 20th centuries.Unique pieces of research, such as the evolution of shellfishing gear, made Schumann rethink preconceived notions of the trade. “I’ve learned that what we think of as ‘tradition’ isn’t always the case,” she said.

Many of questions from the audience were related to the current state of the shellfishing industry, including pollution in Narragansett Bay. “The issue of pollution has been continuous in the history of shellfishing in Rhode Island, and it comes up in many chapters of this book,” said Schumann. “The shellfishermen played a huge role in cleaning up the bay and that action is still ongoing.”

Schumann’s talk was not just about the past. Both aquaculture and wild shellfisheries are thriving industries in Rhode Island today, she said. “While young people are not entering the wild shellfishery in the great numbers that they used to, it’s not because of a declining resource,” said Schumann, who herself is a part-time shellfisherman with a plan to scale up. “Compared to other fisheries in the state, it’s easier to get a license, more affordable to buy a boat and gear, and less unpredictable in terms of catch regulations. Young people just need to know it’s there.”

Schumann adds that shellfishing licenses are opened to all Rhode Islanders on a lottery basis each year. Rhode Island students under 23 can get a free license, and the Rhode Island Shellfisherman’s Association inaugurated an apprenticeship program in 2016 where young people can go out bull raking with experienced quahoggers to try their hands at this career.


March 3, 2016
6 p.m.
Tiverton Library
238 Highland Rd. | Tiverton, RI
Special Guests: The Brayton family, featured in the book

March 10, 2016
6:30 p.m.
Cross Mills Public Library
4417 Old Post Road | Charlestown, RI

April 13, 2016
6:30 p.m.
North Kingstown Free Library
100 Boone St. | North Kingstown, RI

ecohistory_cover2 Lei.inddHOW TO GET A COPY
Copies of “Rhode Island’s Shellfish Heritage: An Ecological History,” may be picked up for free at the Rhode Island Sea Grant office at the address below. Please contact Tracy Kennedy at or (401) 874-6805 to arrange a pickup time.

Copies may be ordered for delivery with a $7 per copy shipping and handling fee. Please make checks payable to Rhode Island Sea Grant/URI and send to:

Rhode Island Sea Grant | URI Narragansett Bay Campus
South Ferry Road
Narragansett, RI 02882