NEW BEDFORD — The New Bedford City Council Committee on Fisheries voted Tuesday to submit a motion to Mayor Jon Mitchell, requesting he petition the state’s fisheries agency to consider the relocation of shellfish to clean waters.
Since late 2019 to early 2020, shellfishing areas in Clarks Cove and the outer harbor have been closed due to contamination concerns, which has affected people who catch quahogs recreationally and commercially.
Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) staff say the areas have remained closed because releases of sewage from the city’s old sewer system through combined sewer overflows (CSOs) were unmanageable and unpredictable.
In attendance were four fishermen, including Eddie Foster and Alan Curtis, who have commercial permits for the closed areas; DMF Director Daniel McKiernan; DMF shellfish program manager Jeff Kennedy; DMF biologists Matt Camisa and Christian Petitpas; and New Bedford Department of Public Infrastructure Deputy Commissioner Justin Chicca.
With the exception of the fishermen and Camisa, the listed attendees spoke to and addressed questions from several city councilors during the meeting.
During the meeting, Chicca countered comments from a DMF biologist, who was telling the councilors raw sewage is entering the water as a result of the discharges, even during dry weather or with little rain.
“It’s not. It could be tidal, it could be rainwater. It’s not raw sewage,” Chicca said.
Foster told The Light after the meeting that moving the shellfish is not ideal but would be better than nothing. He said he would need funding for it and couldn’t do it on his own dime, citing high fuel and operating costs.
DMF staff said in most cases when shellfish are transferred to a clean area, there is a waiting period of 90 days before they can be eaten. However, if the transplant happens after around mid-June (and after the spawning period), the agency usually has permittees wait until the following year for a spawn to occur before harvesting, which would mean a longer wait.
“We can have a discussion about that and waive that with the director,” Kennedy told committee Chair Maria Giesta.
City Councilors Giesta, Ian Abreu, Brian Gomes, Shane Burgo, Scott Lima, Derek Baptiste and Hugh Dunn attended the meeting, some as guests and not members of the Committee on Fisheries.
As the meeting was getting underway at around 7 p.m., a heavy downpour hit New Bedford. According to the city’s newly active monitoring system, which must report CSO discharges to the state under a new law, 16 outfalls were activated between 5:35 and 7:10 p.m. on Tuesday, including into Clarks Cove and the outer harbor.
In a disclaimer, the city notes the overflows it lists are estimates and should not be considered as exact values.
As part of its notification message, the city also cited the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, which states to “avoid contact with these water bodies” for 48 hours after the discharge ceases due to increased health risks from bacteria and pollutants. Further, the city stated the discharges potentially consist of untreated or partially treated sewage and waste.
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