Scenes from a Traditional Fishermen’s Clambake in Little Compton

We tagged along as the crew pulled rockweed, stacked the bake and feasted on lobster, clams and other favorites.

It all starts with the rockweed, salty and matted and greenish-brown — never yellow, the color of new growth. Aquatic sustainability, after all, is the name of the game at the annual Fishermen’s Clambake at the Little Compton Game Club.

Over two days last September, we tagged along as volunteers from the newly merged Westport Fishermen’s Association and Buzzards Bay Coalition worked elbow-to-elbow yanking rockweed, stacking the bake, rinsing the clams and pouring the butter in advance of a traditional New England clambake. They’re an odd pairing, the wind-warn anglers and quahoggers and lobstermen and the white collared not-for-profit set. But the two groups came together two years ago on common ground: to promote and protect Southeastern New England’s waters.

The Fishermen’s Association had been doing the work since 1983, when the west branch of the Westport River was rife with pollution and closed to shellfishing. The late Jack Reynolds, a lifelong Westport River fisherman who died in June of this year, knew they’d have to solve their own problems. He cajoled his fellow fishermen — who would “rather go to the barroom than look like a tree hugger,” he told us at last year’s event, a playful glint behind his rounded eyeglasses — to help test water quality, advocate for development setbacks, pinpoint pollution sources and study salt marsh losses. And, in 2018, he approached the Buzzards Bay Coalition to join forces and ensure the work of the Fishermen’s Association would live on.

A clean Westport River is Reynolds’s legacy, and this community clambake helped him get there. The 2020 event has been canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, but good things come to those who bait. Keep an eye out for the 2021 event, or support the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s clean water work with a donation at support.savebuzzardsbay.org/jack_reynolds.

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