For Immediate Release - June 08, 2015

Rowley Shellfish Constable Sued for Spraying Bleach to Harvest Razor Clams in Rowley

AG’s Office Obtains Preliminary Injunction Against Commercial Clammer Prohibiting Him From Continuing Illegal Practice and Polluting State Waters

NEWBURYPORT — The Rowley Shellfish Constable has been sued for polluting coastal waters and altering wetland resources by allegedly spraying bleach on sensitive areas while harvesting razor clams in state waters, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.

Judge Maynard Kirpalani also granted a preliminary injunction sought by AG Healey against John H. Grundstrom in Essex Superior Court Friday, suspending the Shellfish Constable’s commercial clamming permits and barring him from using spraying equipment, bleach or any other chemical in coastal areas and marine waters. Grundstrom did not contest any terms or conditions of the Preliminary Injunction

Forcing razor clams to the sediment’s surface by spraying bleach can yield a large number of clams in a short period of time compared to harvesting by traditional hand raking and digging methods.

“Our Office will aggressively pursue those who pollute our coastal resources and threaten the health of our tidal wetlands,” said AG Healey. “As shellfish constable, John H. Grundstrom was responsible for protecting the very waters he polluted. In addition to being illegal, his actions were unfair to other shellfish harvesters who are playing by the rules. We are committed to holding those who violate the public’s trust accountable.”

“The harvesting of clams along the Massachusetts coast is an age-old occupation that should never pollute our waters or kill-off the micro-organisms that make these wetland areas unique,” said Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). “Investigations like this ensure that violators do not profit from these risky and illegal actions.”

“The use of chlorine bleach while harvesting shellfish is harmful to clams, other fisheries, and the marine ecology of our coastal waters,” said Department of Fish and Game Commissioner George Peterson, whose agency oversees the Division of Marine Fisheries. “This activity provides the offending clammer with an unfair and illegal advantage over other shellfish harvesters, and we strongly condemn this behavior.”

In a complaint filed with the preliminary injunction on Friday, the AG’s Office alleges that Grundstrom polluted state waters and altered coastal wetlands by spraying bleach in tidal flats on Nelson Island, a specially protected resource under state and federal law and one of the Commonwealth’s most productive shellfishing areas. According to the complaint, chlorine bleach is a corrosive biocide which is toxic to aquatic life and may cause serious tissue damage or death in shellfish exposed to it. When sprayed or injected into mud or sand in tidal areas, chlorine bleach kills microorganisms which supply food and nutrients critical for a healthy coastal ecosystem and necessary for shellfish conservation and productivity.

As alleged in the complaint, Grundstrom has been caught using bleach to harvest razor clams in the past and was repeatedly warned that the practice was prohibited by state and federal law. In response to allegations that he was using bleach to harvest razor clams near the Rowley River in the summer of 2014, Grundstrom presented Rowley Town officials with a signed statement swearing that he has not used chlorine bleach to harvest shellfish.

The AG’s Office is seeking a lengthy suspension or revocation of Grundstrom’s commercial clamming permits for Grundstrom’s alleged violations of the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, the Massachusetts Clean Waters Act, the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Act, and the regulations which administer and enforce these statutes. 

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ireland of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, with assistance from Heidi Zisch, Chief Regional Counsel for MassDEP’s Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington, Richard Lehan, General Counsel of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, and Daniel McKiernan, Deputy Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries.  Investigative, technical and scientific support is being provided by Ronald Stelline and Elizabeth Sabounjian of MassDEP’s Northeast Regional Office, Michael Hickey, Jeff Kennedy, and Story Reed of the Division of Marine Fisheries, Massachusetts Environmental Police Officer Mark Griffin, and US Fish and Wildlife Service Officer Christopher Husgen.