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Gloucester clammer Dan Molloy digs for clams as lightening streaks across the sky to the east last April.

Local shellfishermen can expect on average about $1,400 from federal natural disaster aid, declared in response to a severe red tide bloom in the summer of 2005 that shut down much of the local industry for about three months.

The federal government declared the bloom a natural disaster last summer and allocated $2 million to Massachusetts shellfishermen. This week, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries held meetings in Gloucester, Chatham and Bourne to explain to shellfishermen how the money will be distributed and how to apply.

“It will be based on landings’ value and the duration of the closure,” said Mark Rousseau, the red tide relief coordinator for the Division of Marine Fisheries.

Of the allocation, $950,000 is earmarked for distribution based on landings and $950,000 for days closed, he said. The Division of Marine Fisheries pulled $100,000 for administrative costs, which Rousseau said was a small amount that did not cover all its expenses.

Rousseau explained the state formula, for each shellfisherman to receive his share, to about 60 people in the auditorium of Gloucester High School on Monday evening. He also promised to hold sessions at his office on Emerson Avenue next week to help shellfishermen fill out the application.

Those applications must be postmarked by April 20. Actual aid for each fisherman depends on a number of factors, including how many people apply.

To determine the amount based on landings, the state will take a shellfisherman’s landings for 2004 and divide that value by the total value of all applicants’ landings to get a percentage. That percentage will be multiplied by $950,000 to determine what a given fisherman is eligible for.

“If everyone were to apply, the average would be about $500,” Rousseau said.

He estimated the payout to be $10 to $15 per day per shellfisherman and the average closure would be 60 days. Total payout to each shellfisherman based on days closed is expected to be between $600 and $900. Combined payouts for landings and days closed are expected to net each shellfisherman about $1,400.

Flats for soft-shell clams in Gloucester were closed for 61 days in 2005, shellfish constable David Sargent said.

All applications will be screened by the Executive Office for Administration and Finance to ensure applicants are not behind on taxes, child support or other responsibilities.

Though many shellfishermen at the Gloucester meeting Monday did not want to speak on the record for this article, some were upset by the estimated average amount of aid each would receive.

“It affected everybody financially and $10 or $15 a day is insulting,” said George Taylor, a clammer from Ipswich.

A few others said any help would enable them to afford their permits and continue clamming.

“I lost enough weekly paychecks to put me back about three months,” said Daniel Molloy of Gloucester and a member of the city’s Shellfish Commission, who could not shellfish for 75 days that summer. “When you’re out of work that long, it’s a bonus,” he said of the disaster payment. “It’s great to get some help.”

There are 3,500 shellfishermen in Massachusetts and 350 in Essex County, according to the Division of Marine Fisheries. Not counting sea scallops, the state industry is worth $17 million, and the fisheries agency estimated that the 2005 red tide bloom caused about $10 million in economic damage.

“It was unfortunate that it happened at a time when we were, cyclically, starting to get clams of harvestable size and at a time when we traditionally have high prices paid for shellfish,” Sargent said. Clams tend to bring prices between $1.50 and $2 per pound during the summer, he said.

Sea scallops were not affected by the bloom because only the portion of the scallop that holds the shells together is used for food. The toxin from red tide builds in the digestive system of shellfish, Rousseau said.

Sargent said a number of people were “hurt dramatically” by the closure and had to seek second jobs. Some could not afford to buy the $400 commercial clamming permits in 2006.

“Our permits were down for a year or so as a result,” he said. The aid “was meant to assist, but it won’t make anybody whole.”

A large red tide bloom shut down the shellfish industry from New Hampshire to Cape Cod in 2005. On June 9, 2005, then-Gov. Mitt Romney declared a state of emergency and five days later, the U.S. Department of Commerce declared New England’s outbreak a commercial fishery failure eligible for federal assistance.

The federal government appropriated $5 million in disaster aid for the 2005 bloom; $2 million was allocated for Massachusetts, less the $100,000 for administrative expenses.

A milder bloom occurred last May following days of rain around Mother’s Day. That only resulted in partial closings.



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