“We thought it would be the fairest thing for everybody,” Hogg said.
Bacterial levels will be constantly tested and in extended periods of rainfall, 0.25 inches or greater, the estuary will be closed for five to seven days. Rainfalls of 1.50 inches or greater will result in longer closures subject to re-sampling, according to the state. The contamination mainly comes from sewage treatment plants upriver that overflow during heavy rainstorms. The overflow contains untreated sewage and drainage water that flows into the plants from street drains that are connected to sewer systems in cities such as Lowell and Lawrence.
Softshell clams and other bivalve mollusks become contaminated by filtering 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.
Hogg said “no clam digging” signs located by a boat launching point inside the Joppa Flats park are there to dissuade non-commercial clammers from digging. The last thing the city wants is for a father to take his children clamming and then bringing potentially contaminated clams home for dinner.
The re-opening of the flats to commercial clammers is not only a boon for the local clamming industry but for the entire estuary, Hogg said, noting that removing older clams so that more clams can grow there is the best thing for the flats. Still, Hogg said, clams remain plentiful year-round in the estuary, even better news for clammers.
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 Flats, while the northwest section remains closed. Joppa Flats 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 and 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.