SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

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October 19, 2013

Clam bed reopening leads to rush on licenses

NEWBURYPORT — With Joppa Flats opened to commercial clammers for the first time in 80 years on Tuesday, the city’s shellfish constable said clammers from as far away as Saugus and Winthrop have hustled to purchase licenses.

Paul Hogg, who also serves as the city’s harbormaster, said he sold 12 permits the very first day, with another eight or so licenses expected to be sold in the next few days.

Earlier this week, the state Department of Fish and Game and the Division of Marine Fisheries announced that 250 acres of Joppa Flats in the Merrimack River estuary would be open for the commercial harvest of softshell clams by specially licensed commercial diggers.

The reopening of the Joppa Flats allows the restricted commercial harvest of softshell clams. Under the restrictions, harvesting is limited to weekdays only and must be conducted by specially licensed diggers. The clams must be treated at the DMF depuration plant on Plum Island. Harvesting for direct human consumption remains prohibited.

“It’s good. The guys are happy (commercial clammers); it’s good for the plant,” Hogg said.

Joppa Flats is a shallow, mud-bottomed section of the river, off Water Street and Plum Island Turnpike in the city’s South End. It has historically been one of the most important shellfish areas in the state. Historically, the section of Water Street in the Joppa section of Newburyport was lined with numerous “clam shacks” where harvested clams were brought to be processed. Only one of those shacks remains; it has been converted into a cottage.

Bacterial contamination concerns, caused by industrial pollutants in the river, forced the state to close the flats. Over time, improved water conditions, plus a management plan developed by the city, allowed the area to be reopened.

Clamming licenses cost $200 for nonresidents and $100 for locals, but since licenses run from January to January, the licenses sold earlier this week were prorated to $50, according to Hogg.

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