A young boy and a young girl in swim gear digging for clams in the mud at the edge of the salt marsh.

Shellfish are an important source of protein for shorebirds, and their habitats are an excellent measure of the health of our coastal waterways. For centuries the shellfish beds of the North and South Rivers have provided nourishment and recreation for Indigenous Peoples, European settlers, and generations of families. That all came to an abrupt halt in 1988, when more than 600 acres of shellfish beds were closed due to high fecal coliform levels.

In the last 30+ years, NSRWA staff and volunteers were instrumental in improving water quality through vigilant testing and advocating upgrades to the Scituate treatment plant, septic systems, stormwater, and new sewering in Marshfield. That multi-million-dollar investment resulted in a seasonal opening of the shellfish beds on the North River (1996) and South River (2011) to recreational harvest from November 1st – May 31st.



Water quality in the North and South Rivers has been a top concern since the founding of the NSRWA in 1970. Below is a timeline of our efforts over the past 50+ years to keep our shellfish beds healthy and open.

Identifying Pollution Sources

  • 1986: Serving as a whistle-blower, NSRWA publicly identifies Scituate’s Wastewater Treatment Plant as major source of pollution.
  • 1987: North River Commission documents 25 sources of pollution along the rivers.
  • 1988: Massachusetts DEQE closes North and South River shellfish beds indefinitely, due to poor water quality.
  • 1989: Plug The Pipe campaign gathers public support. NSRWA files lawsuit against Scituate for discharging sewage into the river.
  • 1990: RiverWatch water quality monitoring program established to observe trends in water quality and identify pollution hotspots.
  • 1992: Harvest 95 Program established with a goal of recreational shellfishing on North River by end of 1995.

Shellfishing Returns to North River

  • 1996 (April): Harvest 95 Program is a success! 194 acres of shellfish beds on the North River from Damon’s Point to the mouth are opened for the one month remaining in the shellfishing season.
  • 1996 (December): 194 acres of shellfish beds on the North River reopen on schedule. (Through the years, this acreage will grow to 292.)

Addressing the South River

  • 1997: South River Initiative begins, with a goal of identifying and mitigating sources of pollution in South River.
  • 2000: Scituate Wastewater Treatment Plant is updated. Pollution identified in the 1980’s is mitigated.
  • 2000: Marshfield extends its sewer line into known problem areas. South River pollution begins to abate.
  • 2001: Partnership with Mass Bays Program begins, working together with other communities to address environmental concerns on the South Shore.
  • 2008: No Discharge Area designation established for the North and South Rivers.

Shellfishing Returns to the South River

  • 2011: 313 acres of South River shellfish beds open for the first time in 20 years, for the full December to May season.
  • 2013: Shellfishing season on North and South Rivers extended a full month, opening November 1st.
  • 2019: Shellfishing season on North and South Rivers extended another month, opening October 1st.

Photograph of a large group of adults and children at the edge of the river with placards.

A Temporary Setback

  • 2020: New federal regulation restricts shellfishing near wastewater plants, resulting in the closure of all North and South River shellfish beds.
  • 2020: Sit-in at Scituate’s Driftway Conservation Park spreads awareness about impacts of shellfish bed closures.
  • 2021/2022: NSRWA works with state Division of Marine Fisheries to confirm that discharge from Scituate’s wastewater plant measures up to new federal standards.

Photograph of a large group of adults in foul weather gear at the edge of the river and salt marsh.

Shellfishing Restored!

  • 2023: After a year-long water quality study and 2.5 seasons of closure, about 60% of the North and South River shellfish beds reopen for recreational harvest.

The Saga Continues…

  • 2023 and 2024: Despite being open for the season in general, North and South River shellfish beds are subject to occasional 21-day closures due to storm-related releases of partially-treated sewage far upstream at the Rockland Wastewater Treatment Plant on French’s Stream. NSRWA is actively investigating the fine details of such closures, and searching for potential resolutions. For more info, check out this article from January 2024.

Note: Our shellfish beds reopened on February 9, 2024.

The Future

  • NSRWA continues to advocate for further water quality testing, and for an expansion of the shellfishing season, with the goal of reopening additional shellfishing areas in the future.
  • Want to shellfish? Click here for more info.




Looking for more detailed history? Here are some background articles …

Shellfishing Sit-In

2023 Shellfish Beds Reopen!

2020 Shellfish Beds Closed

Early Activism Leads to Cleaner Rivers (NSRWA History Part 4)

Raising The Bar (NSRWA History Part 5)

Restoring Shellfish Beds (NSRWA History Part 8)