It would be fascinating to learn what a future reader makes of this time and place. Let’s say you’re reading this 25 years from now, in 2039. What will have changed? What will the Woodman’s menu look like? If you could communicate back in time, what would you tell us here in 2014?
In the 1960s and ’70s, when Steve and Doug Woodman were in high school, clamming expertise was a source of pride and there were passionate rivalries over who the best Essex clammers were. But even if you weren’t among the digging elite, just about any local kid could make money clamming for those sweet Essex longnecks.
Granted, local environmental factors were sure to bedevil that pursuit on occasion. Heavy rain could lead to clam-flat closures until the runoff cleared, in extreme cases for up to a month, and every so often the algal blooms of a Red Tide would appear, with the potential to contaminate area shellfish for an entire season. Bad news for commercial clammers, but Woodman’s at least was equipped to acquire its clams from other purveyors along the Atlantic Seaboard until the favored local flats were back in business.
Nowadays fewer clammers are seen on Chubby’s beloved flats. Though still the best, Essex longnecks are harder to come by. While Woodman’s is ever able to go farther afield for its clams, sometimes that can mean looking as far as the Pacific Coast. Those local environmental factors can still inhibit digging, but now they are global too. Climate change is pervasive; despite a sporadic cold snap, ocean temperatures are on the rise. While some focus on the long-term effects to marine life in general, today’s headlining threat to the shellfish industry is the European green crab.
Arriving in the ballast of 19th-century sailing ships, the invasive species has been kept in check farther south by such native predators as the Chesapeake blue crab. For over a century, New England’s reliably frigid winters did the same, until the recent warming trend fostered a population explosion of the voracious decapods, who’ve worked their way up the coast to Newfoundland, ravaging bivalve mollusks (clams, oysters, mussels) along the way. “The beds can’t be replenished when the crabs eat all the seed and they can really wipe out an area,” affirms Steve Woodman, who notes that the region’s shellfish industry is becoming proactive in protecting its beds. Along with a fellow invasive species, the Asian shore crab, the green crab is being re-evaluated for its commercial potential. Both species are considered to be great delicacies in some spheres, and there is forward thinking afoot.
That kind of thinking has usually worked for Woodman’s where, in 2039, the third generation will have long since retired. Joining generations four and five, a sixth generation will be doing “whatever needs to be done,” and while the family’s dedication to quality and tradition will assuredly prevail, so will the vision and adaptability that has enabled the time-honored extraordinary enterprise to endure.
So we ask you, future reader, is that a nice plate of popcorn crab you have there with your steamers and gluten-free onion rings? Woodman’s Clambake Catering menu already includes the North Shore’s best slow-cooked ribs and chicken. Has Chubby’s “Chicken in the Rough” finally come to roost too? If you could send back a message, we’d love to know. Oh, and if you happen to keep track of the daily racing results, that’d be interesting too. Promise to split the winnings.