GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 17, 2013

Lawmakers secure funds for shellfish plant

By Dyke Hendrickson
Staff Writer

---- — PLUM ISLAND — No one likes a sandy clam.

And that evidently includes state lawmakers, who have 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’s 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 facility serves as a vital processing facility for diggers working semi-contaminated flats identified in Newburyport, Salisbury, Boston, Weymouth, Quincy, Hull, Revere, Saugus and Winthrop.

While the facility is not regularly needed or used by clammers out of Essex or Gloucester, the extended use of the plant is seen as a means of helping local clammers avoid state shutdowns of the clam beds after heavy rains.

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 along with Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, to secure 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.

The desanding function is part of a shellfish purification management plan put into effect in March 2012.

Local officials appear to be becoming more conscious of shellfish quality as well.

Newburyport Harbormaster Paul Hogg recently told members of the Harbor Commission that he is preparing to serve as shellfish constable of the area, as part of an effort to oversee activities in clam flats.

Several clam diggers contacted declined to comment on the health of the industry.

“The clam industry is healthy,” Diodati said, “and there will be plenty for diners this summer.”