Locals enjoying a day out harvesting shellfish in the North and South Rivers.

Usually, on November 1st every year, 607 acres of shellfish beds on the North and South Rivers are declared open for recreational harvest, but not so this year. On October 28th the shellfish beds in the North and South Rivers were closed, possibly indefinitely, due to a federal regulation that has recently been enforced in shellfish growing areas that are near wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs).

Meeting with town representatives, state and federal legislators regarding the closure of the shellfish beds on the North and South Rivers. From left to right: Shellfish Warden Scituate and Marshfield Mike Dimeo, Aide to Congressmen Lynch, Janet Fairbanks NSRWA Board Member and Scituate resident, Marshfield Town Administrator Mike Maresco, Scituate Town Manager Jim Boudreau.

Every year our shellfish beds close during the summer due to past water quality tests showing that bacteria is higher in the summer and when it rains. The NSRWA has helped make major improvements in the rivers’ bacterial counts, and over the years more acres of shellfish beds have stayed open longer. The regulation that just closed the shellfish beds pertains not to bacteria, but to enteroviruses (gut viruses) like norovirus.

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MassDMF) regulates shellfish bed openings and closures under the authority of the FDA’s National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP). Based on recent calculations by the FDA, there is not enough dilution of the effluent from the Scituate Wastewater Treatment Plant to meet the standards provided in their shellfish management guide and the FDA has asked that the shellfish beds be closed. This same regulation is affecting other shellfish beds and towns on the South Shore, including Plymouth.

The shellfish beds must remain closed until MassDMF and the towns can demonstrate that enough dilution is being provided. There are three things that need to happen to help prove that the water meets standards and enable the beds to be reopened. First, MassDMF has asked the FDA to conduct a dye study. Dye would be added to the effluent of the treatment plant and the plume tracked and tested, to determine where the effluent goes and how quickly it gets diluted. Second, testing of the water for an indicator called “male specific coliphage” (MSC) would be conducted. MSC is a virus that eats E. coli bacteria and is an indicator of the presence of enteroviruses. Finally, MassDMF will evaluate the records and operation of the Scituate WWTP to supplement the information from the previously mentioned tests. For instance, the Scituate Wastewater Treatment plant uses ultraviolet light to remove viruses and bacteria. The studies will provide insight into whether there is truly a need at this site to close the shellfishery.

According to Jeff Kennedy, Shellfish Lead for MassDMF, there have been no known illnesses from the consumption of shellfish from our rivers. We have been told by MassDMF that the studies are at the top of its list for getting completed next summer and that the agency is working with the FDA to design these studies. When asked why the studies were not done prior to closure, MassDMF Shellfish Lead Jeff Kennedy stated,” That DMF had felt their closure areas were adequate and they had not been questioned before by the FDA.”

From left to right Senator Patrick O’Connor, Joe Norton North River Commissioner and owner Mullaney’s Seafood, and Congressmen Stephen Lynch.

This news comes as a frustrating blow to our efforts as the NSRWA has fought for 30+ years to improve water quality with the stated goal of reopening the shellfish beds. And we have been incredibly successful in that effort. We have tested for bacteria for years because that was and is still is the water quality standard! We have advocated upgrades to the Scituate Wastewater Treatment plant, upgrades to homeowner Title V septic systems, sewering in Marshfield, and many stormwater upgrades aimed at removing bacteria. We have seen a steady improvement in water quality due to the millions of dollars of investment to reduce pollution and that has resulted in a seasonal opening of the shellfish beds to recreational harvest from November 1st – May 31st.

NSRWA has joined the towns of Marshfield and Scituate to call for the needed studies to be done quickly and well. We recently met with Scituate and Marshfield representatives, our state legislators Representative Patrick Kearney and Senator Patrick O’Connor, as well as Congressman Stephen Lynch. At the meeting Congressman Lynch noted that the NSRWA’s voice was very important as an advocate for the public’s resources and he vowed to help at the federal level to pressure FDA to move forward as quickly as possible. Marshfield and Scituate Shellfish Warden, Mike Dimeo also stated, “The towns are committed to getting this resolved and to reopening the shellfish beds for recreational harvest as soon as possible.”

In order to ensure that our government understands how important this issue is we hope you will join us in contacting your local, state and federal representatives to urge them to support reopening the public’s resources. Please feel free to contact our Executive Director Samantha Woods at samantha@nsrwa.org for more information. Stay tuned!