EG Native Writes Book About Quahogging And The Bay

Ray Huling grew up the son and grandson of shellfishermen; his new book encourages a return to that life.

Ray Huling’s got tiny wood chips in his hair. The author of the recently published Harvesting the Bay: Fathers, Sons and the Last of the Wild Shellfishermen chopped some wood for his parents before meeting at the Harbourside for an interview.

A writer by trade, Huling knows how to work with his hands, just as his father and grandfather did before him. They both raked quahogs, and harvested scallops – the scallops that gave the East Greenwich waterfront its old moniker: Scalloptown.

That name is nearly all that’s left of an industry that once provided a good, if difficult, living for scores of East Greenwich men. There are few shanties left on Water Street these days and only a few men – it’s an industry almost exclusively male – who earn a living quahogging. Like farmers in the mid-20th century, shellfishermen are a dwindling bunch.

Huling uses shellfishing, quahogging in particular, as the template to make his argument that society needs to look to other ways to produce food – to look backward. He argues it’s time to reconsider shellfishing, just as people in their 20s and 30s are now turning to farming. (Consider EG’s own Patrick McNiff, proprietor of Pat’s Pastured at Boesch Farm, who grew up in a Long Island suburb.)

“I think we cannot keep using fewer and fewer people to make more and more food,” says Huling, citing the increased costs in pollution, depleted soils, and energy consumption.

Manual labor is hard work, but Huling says, “Some people do want to work this way. They find real fulfillment working with their hands to produce food. Quahoggers really do love their jobs.”

Huling may not be a quahogger himself, but his love for that way of life is evident. He talks with ease about Greenwich Cove and wealth of quahogs lying under the surface of the water there.

"It’s possible this is the densest population of quahogs on Earth,” says Huling. The area was closed permanently to shellfishing decades ago because the shape of the cove does not allow for pollutants to flush out.

“Because of the closure, it’s loaded with quahogs,” he says. “They’re also extremely well fed because of the level of nitrogen in the runoff." Quahogs in the cove are routinely gathered and “re-planted” in healthier areas of the bay where the pollutants get flushed out quickly.

You might think Huling would be pleased with the naming of , the nature preserve that sits atop the old dump at the top of Greenwich Cove. He isn’t.

“Scalloptown is gone. The park memorializes this fishery that doesn’t exist anymore. What would offset that for me would be an investment in the fishermen still here,” he says.

Huling suggests holding a big town clambake every year to celebrate the fishermen working in East Greenwich now. The EGHS graduate (Class of 1992) lives in Massachusetts now, but there's little doubt that's a celebration he'd want to be a part of.

To read more about Huling and his book, check out this article written by EG's Bob Plain (a classmate of Huling's) on RI Future.

Allen Gammons August 05, 2012 at 10:37 AM
where can the book be purchased?
Lynn Krim August 05, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Quahogging was an important part of this town's history. Several young men of my generation paid for their college education by quahogging out of Scalloptown. It was hard work requiring getting up before dawn and working the bull rake until mid afternoon. Can you imagine an East Greenwich teenager doing that today? I would be interested in knowing where I could get a copy of that book too.
Therese Vezeridis August 05, 2012 at 11:57 AM
AGREED. having been raised on a 240 acre farm in Wisconsin! Want to buy the book.
Judy Bailey August 05, 2012 at 12:34 PM
I am looking forward to reading it'
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) August 05, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Hi all. If you click on the name of the book, it will send you to Amazon, but I am going to give our own Symposium Books a call today and suggest they stock it. In fact, I think they should have Ray do a reading there! Gonna suggest that too.
Lynn Krim August 05, 2012 at 01:17 PM
carey amaral August 05, 2012 at 01:36 PM
I live this!! My grandfather Henry Briggs (Plum) would take me with him and feed me quahogs while he dug. My uncle Bill Briggs (nick name was digger)made his living off the bay until he had a heart attach while raking. This town has such a fabulous history, thanks Ray!! I can't wait to read your book!!!
Lynn Krim August 05, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Such a wonderful rich history in our little town. The newcomers have no idea, nor it would seem, any interest in learning about where this all came from. I always thought a statue of a Quahogger would have been more appropriate than the "silver donut" (surrounded by signs and vehicles) on the top of King Street). Some of my earliest memories are catching bait in the wee hours of the morning at Sandy Point with my grandfather, John Reisert, who was a sea captain and a boat builder at what is now Nortons. He also took me oystering in Charlestown and we hung traps off our boats here in the bay to catch lobsters and an occasional ell which my grandmother cooked to perfection. I would love to see a resurgence of Martha McPartland's book too.
Mark Thompson August 05, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Congratulations on the book, Ray!


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