A Conversation About Shellfishing

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The next “Conversation” sponsored by the Woods Hole Historical Museum will be a historical look at shell-fishing in Falmouth. The Conversation is scheduled for Tuesday, May 24 at 1 PM in the meeting room in the lower level of the Woods Hole Public Library, 581 Woods Hole Road, adjacent to the Museum.

The speaker will be Matt Weeks, who comes to the subject with not only a lot of on-the-water knowledge, but also a deep curiosity and skill in searching historical documents. Matt was the fisheries technician for the Town of Falmouth for two years, and helped oversee the creation of oyster rafts in Little Pond, among other duties. Since then, he has moved on to become a self-employed shellfisherman, with an oyster grant just outside Waquoit Bay. He works that grant, and also participates in wild harvest.

He has found the time and energy to do serious research in the historical records in the Falmouth Historical Society archives and the Falmouth Public Library, gleaning information about shellfishing dating back to 1770s. He will talk about the results of that effort.

Matt will share his findings relating to Falmouth’s shellfish resources for more than two hundred years starting in the 1770s. He will touch on past management of the resources, showing images of the historical records and ledgers, including early concerns about Oyster Pond’s oysters starting in in 1773, the first oyster grants awarded in 1852, and seeding local ponds. He will include details on aquaculture and natural resources and their changes through time.

In trying to clarify and analyze oyster grants, he has created tables showing location of grant, date, and the grantee, stretching all the way from 1852 to present, and for the first time providing a historic and comprehensive look at the Town’s grants. He has also studied the more recent official town records relating to shellfish up to the present and will present an overview of those reports.

As he says of his research “My goal was to build some institutional memory that could shed some light on what has been done in the past and how we got to “now”. I also hope to glean from the documents some reflection of the ecological history of our resources and how they were utilized and changed. This would hopefully help put current management into a long- term historical perspective.”

As he studied the records, he also found interesting bits about other fisheries, which he will also share, including the first scallop permits in 1898, and concerns in the 1920s about fish weirs, seines, and a herring house.

It all promises to be an informative and very interesting presentation, proving, as the Museum’s Director Jennifer Gaines says “Matt proves how important and vital a study of the historical documents can be, enlightening us about our lives and town today.” She adds “This is great; it is as if we all are looking right at those documents; it’s fascinating!”

For more information, call the Museum at 508-548-7270.

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