Alone on the water: the last Rhode Island Quahoggers (a video)

This enhanced podcast takes you on a journey into the lives of Quahoggers (Rhode Island’s shellfishermen,) exploring their traditional (but threatened) way of life.

In a corner of Narragansett Bay, the body of water that has sustained and supported the tiny state of Rhode Island for centuries, a unique group of men have been working in a centuries old field of work. The Rhode Island shell fishermen, or quahoggers, as they are locally known, have been working on small boats, in a small state, harvesting small clams, for small pay. Their work is tireless, thankless and tedious. But this group of fiercely independent men would never trade their work on the water for a job of any other kind. The lot of them, many college-educated, family patriarchs — find passion and reward in a day’s work harvesting the state’s official clam with it’s trademark name, the “Quahog.”

The trade, its techniques and lifestyle have been handed down from generation to generation. Offshore, quahogging is a simple and direct contest between a man and the bay. But in the past decade their ways of life, their industry and livelihoods have become threatened. A job that was once a simple, hard day’s work producing an honest wage has become victim to pollution, politics, sophisticated mass production and manipulative marketing from within and outside their own state. The social and economic trends suggest that in as little as 20 years commercial shellfishing for the quahog will be destroyed in this part of the country. Facing a maze of regulations and declining prices for their catch, many question the viability of the job itself.

At the public library in the quahogger-rich town of Warwick, Rhode Island, stands a large statue of a shell fisherman with his bull-rake in hand, bag of quahogs at his feet and dog at his side. The sculpture is meant to be a tribute to the modest, hardworking local men. But with the looming demise of Rhode Island’s quahoggers, it is quickly becoming an early memorial to the men and their once cherished way of life.

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