Shellfish Allergy Won’t Keep Carl Johansen Out Of The Creeks

Carl Johansen emerges from Mill Creek with his catch of quahogs on Sunday, which was opening day for the town's shellfishing season.JEFF URQUHART/ENTERPRISE - Carl Johansen emerges from Mill Creek with his catch of quahogs on Sunday, which was opening day for the town's shellfishing season.

Ask Carl A. Johansen how long he has been shellfishing, and he replies, “Quite a while, my friend, quite a while.”

Now 79, Mr. Johansen said he probably was in his 20s when he began harvesting shellfish on the flats along the Dorchester coastline.

As of this past Sunday morning the Oxford Road resident was still at it: standing in the Old Harbor Creek estuary in below-freezing temperatures, raking for quahogs in his favorite spot near the Sandwich Boardwalk.

But what really sets Carl Johansen apart, as a shellfisherman, is that he is allergic to shellfish.

Rather than eat them, he brings them to an informal network of friends, people who can and do enjoy eating shellfish.

They include widows of some of his old fishing buddies—Mr. Johansen also is skilled with rod and reel.


Edward F. Slamin, who lives around the corner from Mr. Johansen on Courtland Drive, has spent many an hour fishing with his neighbor.

“He’s just a very kind, thoughtful, generous man,” Mr. Slamin said about Mr. Johansen.

Mr. Johansen was not always allergic to shellfish.

“I used to love quahogs,” he said.

While walking along beaches to go surfcasting, he and his friends would come across quahogs and surf clams, which they would consume on the spot.

For decades, he downed shellfish. But then, about 15 years ago, he had one of his favorite restaurants whip up a batch of quahog chowder. Oddly, it did not agree with him.

He ordered up another batch. Same result.

Mr. Johansen went to see his doctor, who told him that he had developed an allergy to shellfish.
But if Mr. Johansen cannot have shellfish himself, he makes certain that others can.

Because he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly referred to as COPD, bending over is difficult for him. That pretty much keeps him from digging for steamers.

Quahogs, however, are another story. Using his “Ribb rake,” made by the R.A. Ribb Company in Harwich, Mr. Johansen is able to stand tall and rake relatively close to the surface.

Over time, he said, he has developed a sensitivity to whether the rake tines have encountered a quahog or a rock. “You can almost feel the difference,” he said.

Once he has harvested his quahogs—Sandwich allows recreational shellfish license holders to gather a peck of quahogs every Sunday during its season, which typically runs from late November to May—the time has come to give them away.

Recipients include Mr. Slamin. Although he enjoys the outdoors, Mr. Slamin said he never got into digging for quahogs.

But he does enjoy hunting, and he knows that Mr. Johansen and his wife, Judith E. Johansen, enjoy venison. So Mr. Slamin will bring by venison for the Johansens, just as Mr. Johansen will bring by quahogs for him.

Mr. Johansen said he was introduced to the concept of sharing as a life practice back in his teens, when he worked as head herdsman on a farm near Rutland, Vermont.

In addition to sharing quahogs, Mr. Johansen also has been known to share his enthusiasm for shellfishing with potential converts.

One such convert is town manager George H. Dunham, who now has obtained his own recreational license.
Mr. Dunham said both Mr. Johansen and Mark S. Galkowski, the town’s director of natural resources, helped get him interested in shellfishing.

Quahogging also has provided Mr. Johansen with unexpected adventure. Two years ago, he was in the creek in Sandwich when another shellfisherman called him over, saying he had come upon a lot of quahogs.

Mr. Johansen made his way to the spot. But then he took a step backward, into a deep hole he did not realize was there.

Down he went. He came back up, helped by the shellfisherman and his own peck basket float, which he had made from a child’s buoyant plastic swimming board. But the air had been knocked out of him.

A nearby shellfish constable saw what had happened and called Sandwich Rescue.

“They put me in the ambulance,” Mr. Johansen said, and drove him to his house.

“I was fine,” he said.

The episode, however, also made him aware of how soft the sand can be in spots in the creek. These days, as he moves around in the water, he will slide his feet over and test the firmness before putting his weight on a new spot.

Yet Mr. Johansen is not about to let unexpected holes or freezing temperatures or anything else keep him from quahogging.

“For me,” he said, “it’s the only way I can test myself, to see what I can do, and I’m not giving up.”


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  • maryanne

    Thanks for a wonderful article about a man I do not know well, but am a great admirer of. Mr. Johansen seems to be a man of many talents and experiences, sharing them freely with great generosity. I am most familiar with, and grateful for, his presence at Town Meeting. He is always well-prepared and is highly knowledgeable about the subjects he is passionate about. He is knowledgeable of, and wise to the rules of the meeting, always respectful towards those he is speaking for or against. Thanks for highlighting a person to whom we can all look up to as how to live life to its fullestk oy and determination,giving to others as a practice. Thanks Mr. Johansen!