For Immediate Release - January 13, 2010

Patrick-Murray Administration Announces Expanded Shellfishing Opportunities for North Shore Clammers

Improved Water Quality in Essex Bay Allows More Harvesting at Gloucester, Essex, and Ipswich Clam Flats

BOSTON - Based on test data that show improved water quality, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) today announced that the Commonwealth has approved expanded shellfishing opportunities in the Greater Essex Bay towns of Gloucester, Essex, and Ipswich.

"The Division of Marine Fisheries has worked very hard since 2007, testing the water quality in the region to allow for this important reclassification," said Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Commissioner Mary Griffin. "Gloucester, Essex, and Ipswich deserve a great deal of credit for working with the state to improve sewage treatment, septic systems, and storm water mitigation measures necessary for water quality improvement and clean shellfish."

Recent testing by DMF's shellfish program confirmed that water quality in Essex Bay has improved enough to allow approximately 40 percent more harvest days per year for both commercial and recreational clammers in the three communities.

The Essex Bay clam flats, which are shared by the city of Gloucester and the towns of Essex and Ipswich, were formerly required to be closed for five days after the area receives 0.25 to 0.40 inches of rain, depending on the time of year. Under the new rules, closures will be required only after 0.6 inches of rain during the summer and one inch of rain during the winter. This change will increase available harvesting opportunities by 40 percent for the more than 450 licensed commercial clammers and nearly 1,000 recreational harvesters, including many families with digging permits. Almost 1,900 acres of shellfish flats will now be open to shellfish harvest more often. In addition, 459 acres will become seasonally approved and remain open in the winter, except during unusually severe storm events when rainfall exceeds three inches.

"I am pleased that the water quality is improving and is having a positive impact on the lives of our fisherman and the extended days of harvesting can only be beneficial for the economic livelihoods of the Massachusetts Fishing Community," said Rep. William Straus, co-chair of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

Rain can wash harmful bacteria into the Bay, contaminating clams and other shellfish. Once the Bay is flushed clean by the tides and clams have the opportunity to purge themselves of bacteria with clean seawater, shellfish are once again safe to eat.

"The shellfish industry is one of Gloucester's most historic and treasured resources," said Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk. "Our significant investments in sewer, septic, and drainage systems could not have had a more worthwhile result. This is very good news for Gloucester."

"The recent water quality improvements offer a tremendous benefit to the shellfishing industry, recreational interests, tourism, and the Essex River Basin environment alike," said Essex Board of Selectmen Chairman Jeffrey Jones. "The Town's investment in a new sewer system is now paying dividends both economically and environmentally as these real improvements have become evident."

In an effort to help the local clam fishery, Essex, Gloucester, and Ipswich have been actively engaged in reducing the sources of pollution contaminating Essex Bay. The town of Essex constructed a new sewage system in 2006 that ties into Gloucester's existing sewage treatment plant. Ipswich has upgraded and repaired septic systems and improved storm water mitigation. Gloucester has improved storm water mitigation and is using innovative solutions to improve problematic septic systems in areas of the city not served by the sewer system.

The Greater Essex Bay area includes both the inner and outer Essex Bay shellfish areas and the Castle Neck River. Soft shell clams are the predominant and most valuable shellfish in this area, which also supports a razor clam fishery. According to DMF figures from 2007 and 2008, close to 2 million pounds of soft shell clams are harvested each year in Greater Essex Bay, with value of approximately $2.5 million, comprising about 31 percent of the total Massachusetts soft shell clam fishery.

The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is responsible for promoting the enjoyment and conservation of the Commonwealth's natural resources. DFG carries out this mission through land preservation and wildlife habitat management, management of inland and marine fish and game species, and enforcement of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. DFG promotes enjoyment of the Massachusetts environment through outdoor skills workshops, fishing festivals and other educational programs, and by enhancing access to the Commonwealth's lakes and ponds.