March 20, 2017
5 questions with quahogger and BELL: RI instructor Jody King
March 20-25 is the 2nd Annual Quahog Week in Rhode Island, five days of events dedicated to celebrating the vital role the bivalves play in the state’s economy and ecosystem.
Those same lessons are instilled each year in the students who attend Brown Environmental Leadership Lab: Rhode Island, which takes place in seaside Bristol, thanks in no small part to veteran quahogger Jody King. For the past 14 years, King has spent a day with each two-week BELL: RI session teaching students how to shellfish and about some of the issues facing local waters and his industry. It’s a highlight of the BELL: RI program and a day that King says he enjoys as much as the students.
“It’s my favorite thing to do all year long,” King says. “The students are absolutely amazing. They are what make the program. I’ve never met more intelligent and engaged 14-17 year olds."
Here, King talks more about his yearly visits to BELL: RI, which he will do again this year, including what the day entails and why sampling the local seafood is as important a lesson as how it ends up on plates.
1.) What activities do you lead students in during your visit?
I’m there for a full day. I generally roll up before the kids are out of their bunks, around 6:30 a.m., and start unpacking. We used to spend most of the day on my boat, but now we split the day between class time and time outside by the water. The students actually get to walk into the water with me and find out what’s there. We use rakes and pull out littlenecks, oysters, softshell clams, mussels, all sorts of invertebrate shellfish, and also learn a lot about plants.
2.) How do you spend the classroom portion of your visit?
I talk about boat rules and the regulations of shellfishing. We pull up maps and charts to look at where you can and can’t fish in Narragansett Bay. We also talk about the unique shape of the Bay and why it’s important to be conscious of what happens upland, because eventually everything travels downstream and ends up in the Bay.
3.) What do you do with the shellfish you collect?
We head back up to the lodge and cook what we’ve found in the Bay. There are always 14 or 15 students who want to cook, and ask about my dad’s recipes that I use to cook the shellfish, what I brought with me, and how I will prepare everything. In addition to what we catch, I usually bring oysters, littlenecks, lobsters, steamers. We do a traditional clambake and they get to learn three to four recipes for cooking clams. I’ll also shuck raw oysters for them to try. So far I’ve only had one class where they all tried raw shellfish.
4.) Why is it important to take that extra step of cooking and eating the day’s catch?
It makes the students remember me and remember a piece of Rhode Island. Sometimes it’s tough at first to get some of them to try the shellfish, but these students are so enthusiastic. One year, I had a strict vegan who opened up a raw oyster and just stuck her tongue in. She just wanted to taste it without eating it. It’s amazing when they are willing to try new things.
5.) What do you hope students take away from your visit?
The importance of taking care of the water. Rhode Island is unique. We are very small yet we have 384 miles of coastline, which I travel a lot of with my job. The coast is an integral part of Rhode Island and so is the shellfishing industry.
We talk a lot about my work fishing onshore and offshore, about both the dangers and positive features of the industry. I get to show them my hands; they’re a roadmap of what I’ve done the past 30 years.
I also tell them about my life. I tell them what it takes to be a fisherman and what I do outside of work. I lost my brother in the 2003 Station nightclub fire (in West Warwick, Rhode Island), and I survived the fire myself. Since then, I’ve started three nonprofits to help survivors and victims’ families. I talk to the BELL students about why it’s important to get outside of your career box.
It’s a day in the life of Jody. It’s a lot of fun to share all of that with the students each year. I feel like I get just as much out of it as they do.
Brown Environmental Leadership Lab runs three sessions this Summer. Visit www.brown.edu/precollege/bell/rhode_island to learn more and apply.