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July 16, 2013

Digging up funds

Legislators secure money for shellfish plant

PLUM ISLAND — No one likes a sandy clam.

And that evidently includes state lawmakers, who recently approved an expenditure of $400,000 for the operation of the Newburyport Shellfish Purification Plant.

The state-owned facility, which receives funding each year, purifies clams that have been exposed to the vagaries of water quality off the Commonwealth’s shores.

The plant is also implementing “desanding” services that state officials say is valued by diners.

“Some clams do not require purification, but they are more marketable when they have been desanded,” said Paul J. Diodati, director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, which runs the plant.

“The amount of area open to digging changes because of rainfall, red tide and elements like that, but the purification plant is important to ensure that all shellfish are clean and edible,” he added.

The purification plant employs about nine people in full and part-time positions, state officials say.

Marine spokesmen report that there are about 100 full-time professional clammers in the state, and about 1,300 others who hold shell-fishing licenses that permit them to dig clams.

The Newburyport Shellfish Purification Plant on Plum Island is the oldest continually operating facility of its kind in the country.

Diodati said that desanding is a relatively new activity and could lead to increased revenue for the Plum Island facility.

The plant is guaranteed to realize $400,000 in funding and could get as much as $200,000 more if plant managers collect a significant amount of fees from “shellfish volume increase realized from the implementation of desanding services,” according to Maria Syrniotis, a staffer in the office of state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, who worked to obtain the funding.

During past budget years, funding for the plant has been in jeopardy of getting eliminated; however, legislators have always been able to keep the funding in place.

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