Local shellfishermen want to see the Plum Island Shellfish Purification plant survive for the good of the state's shellfish industry.
But they have made it clear to lawmakers that they aren't necessarily interested in helping support it.
At a meeting at the Division of Marine Fisheries headquarters in Gloucester, third-generation shellfisherman Jack Grundstrom and other clammers told officials they would not back any plan that would seek to make the plant more solvent by forcing those who work the pristine flats of Plum Island Sound to use the plant when those areas are closed due to rain.
They told state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and DMF officials they are opposed to Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed closure of the state-funded treatment facility as a cost-saving measure. But that doesn't mean they want the burden of saving the plant to fall on their shoulders through added costs — even if it means they would have the freedom to dig on days when heavy rainfall prompts closures of their flats due to increased risk of contamination, Grundstrom said.
"We don't want to depurate our clams, period," he said.
About 30 shellfishermen from across Massachusetts turned out for last week's meeting to hear more about what the future holds for the Plum Island plant, which serves as a vital processing facility for master diggers working semi-contaminated flats identified in Newburyport, Salisbury, Boston, Weymouth, Quincy, Hull, Revere, Saugus and Winthrop.
The meeting was organized by Tarr and attended by approximately 10 DMF officials.
"This is something that happens every couple of years and it's not only the purification plant," Tarr said. "It's about shellfishing issues in the North of Boston region, having to do with how frequently the shellfishing beds are being tested, the amount of time they are closed and the amount of time it takes to open them."
Patrick announced last month he planned to cut $400,000 in funding for the depuration plant, which has operated since 1928 on a spit of land at the tip of Plum Island Point.
While North Shore legislators like state Rep. Mike Costello, D-Newburyport, have pledged to fight as they did last year to restore the funding, there are questions whether the plant could be better managed by the state to earn more revenue or perhaps be transferred to a private party.
Costello and Tarr are awaiting the results of a DMF study on the plant's operation, hoping it will provide concrete steps the state can take to keep it running at less cost to taxpayers.
"What (DMF) was looking at specifically is are there other ways to use the plant to make it more sustainable," Tarr said. "The early indications are that they've identified some ways to do that."
In the meantime, state officials on Wednesday said they are looking at ways to open the plant for longer hours to allow more shellfishermen to use it for a variety of purposes — an idea Tarr said he supports.
"I don't want to fight this battle perennially and not try to make progress on making the plant an even more valuable resource than it is today," Tarr said. "All indications are that it is very much underutilized. The people that can bring clams to it are a very restricted group, as it's used primarily for decontamination of heavily polluted areas. In turn, that's why a lot of the clammers in our area can't use it because they don't dig clams in permanently closed areas."
Grundstrom said there's the potential that the additional operating hours would allow shellfishermen to use the plant to purge sand from steamers, which might make them more palatable to consumers.
"I don't know," Grundstrom said. "It's not something I would probably use, but I guess there would be other uses for it."
What Grundstrom and other fishermen most fears is the potential for the state to reconsider an idea discussed last year that would mandate local clammers to use the facility if they want to pull shellfish from beds during rainfall closures, which he adamantly opposes.
"I don't think they're going to have much luck with this voluntary depuration thing, so I can see them coming back with this same suggestion," he said. "If they do, and it looks like they're going to do it, there's going to be a beehive around because no one wants to take these beautiful clams from Plum Island Sound and put them through a depuration plant."