NEWBURYPORT — The state Department of Fish and Game and the Division of Marine Fisheries announced that 250 acres of Joppa Flat in the Merrimack River estuary will be open for the commercial harvest of softshell clams by specially licensed commercial diggers.
Joppa Flat is a shallow, mud-bottomed section of the river, located off Water Street and Plum Island Turnpike in the city’s South End. It has historically been one of the most important shellfish areas in the region, but in recent decades has been closed due to contamination.
“I am happy to credit the city of Newburyport and the staff of our Division of Marine Fisheries for the hard work that was necessary to open this area to commercial clammers,” said Department of Fish and Game commissioner Mary Griffin. “Massachusetts’ softshell clam harvest is worth five to six million dollars annually and the opening of Joppa Flat will benefit commercial shell fishermen in the area who rely on open and productive flats for their livelihood.”
The reopening of the Joppa Flat allows the restricted commercial harvest of softshell clams. Under the restrictions, harvesting is limited to weekdays only and must be conducted by specially licensed diggers. The clams must be treated at the DMF depuration plant on Plum Island. Harvesting for direct human consumption remains prohibited.
Once considered among the top clam-producing flats in Massachusetts, bacterial contamination had shut down this highly productive bed for over 80 years. Improved water quality and a comprehensive management plan developed with the City of Newburyport has allowed the area to be reopened.
Rainfall will trigger episodes of bacterial contamination in excess of national standards. Accordingly, the area will be closed to shellfishing for five to seven days after rainfalls of 0.25 inches or greater. Rainfalls of 1.50 inches or greater will result in longer closures subject to re-sampling.
Softshell clams and other bivalve mollusks become contaminated by filtering both harmless and pathogenic, or disease-causing, bacteria and viruses from seawater during feeding and respiration. Contaminated shellfish can transmit these organisms to humans if the shellfish are eaten raw or under-cooked.
The Merrimack River was once considered one of the nation’s 10 most polluted rivers. This reopening is due to concerted clean-up efforts begun over 20 years ago by local, state and federal programs and an aggressive re-sampling initiative by DMF. The reopening encompasses over 251 acres of the southeastern portion of the Joppa Flat, while the northwest section remains closed. Joppa Flat will join some 534 acres of Merrimack River estuary clam flats in Newburyport and Salisbury that were reopened in 2006.
For further information on city requirements, contact the Newburyport Harbormaster & Shellfish constable Paul Hogg at 978-462-3746. For further information on Marine Fisheries requirements and regulations, contact Jeff Kennedy at 978‑465‑3553 or Dave Roach at 978‑282‑0308.