Editor's note: This a corrected version of this story. William Knovak is shellfish constable for the town of Essex .In the original, his position was incorrectly identified
ESSEX — The Essex shellfish constable has ordered the town's winter clam flats closed at the end of this month in order to prevent over-harvesting of the clams.
"Whenever we feel that we've dug out to where if we dig more, we'll do irreversible damage, we close the flats," said Shellfish Constable William Knovak, who set the closure date for April 30.
Knovak said the winter flats are generally closed by the end of April, but that the timing can vary widely based on how much harvesting is done.
According to Knovak, the flats have been ordered closed as early as March and as late as May, but that April was the usual time for the switch to the summer flats.
"We try to shut it down before summer residents come in," said Knovak.
The flats are located in the Essex River and into Ipswich Bay, and the winter flats are primarily adjacent to Conomo Point.
As of May 1, clammers will have to use the summer flats, located near Farnham's, for their clams. The shellfish constable issues permits for commercial clamming as well as permits for personal use.
In the quest for clams for steaming and frying, clam harvesters can dig too deep and take too much, according to Knovak. He said this risk of over-harvesting is why the flats are divided into winter and summer areas in the first place — and a primary reason why the winter flats shut down at a different time each year based on how much of the flats has been dug up.
While Knovak said that Essex's flats are healthy and full of clams, he said he was slightly concerned that the dry weather could mean more harvesting and could go over the line.
"Dry weather means harvesting seven days a week, and that means a lot of clams get taken," said Knovak.
When it rains, the flats are shut down for safety reasons, except for a section of the flats that are located far from shore and are rain-exempt.
"(The flats) were closed 100 days last year because of the rain," said Knovak, noting that this year the flats were not closed nearly as often.
Knovak said the dry weather has had no effect on the health of the flats as of yet.
The flats that will be closing are The Spit N7.0 and Joe's Creek.
The America's Bank flats have been closed for reseeding all season.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.