Shellfishermen provide a valuable service

To the Editor:The article entitled “Oak Bluffs shellfishermen air gripes, reap rewards” (May 6) perhaps missed the point. The work that the Oak Bluffs Shellfish Department does is for protecting the ponds and estuaries within the town of Oak Bluffs. The water quality in our ponds is in decline, primarily due to excess nitrogen entering the waters through the ground water recharge. Good coastal pond water quality and health is critical and underpins the tourism economy. Who would come to vacation or live here if our ponds were so polluted that there were thick algal mats floating on the surface and as they decay removing dissolved oxygen from the water and thus causing mass mortality of both fin fish and invertebrates, compounding the problem with noxious odor.

Sooner or later, the Island as a whole will need to address the issue of excess nitrogen entering the ponds, if we are going to keep our ponds alive. The options are not going to be cheap or easy. Nitrogen is a fertilizer, and when it gets into the coastal ponds it promotes the growth of both seaweeds and microscopic plants known as phytoplankton. Actively growing shellfish consume the microscopic plants and incorporate the nitrogen into their tissues as they grow. The shellfish filter the water as they feed and are small bio-filtration units that help to clean the water. The other side of the equation is that the shellfish need to be harvested to remove the nitrogen from the cycle. Both commercial and recreational shellfishermen provide that side. To save our ponds we will all have to work together on this problem, if we are to be successful. The article that appeared in the May 6 issue was not productive. It may have cost us some trust and cooperation with towns and shellfishermen. Time will tell. Now is a time that we all need to come together to address a very serious issue that affects everyone on the Island to some degree. We anticipate receiving at least draft reports on three ponds (Sengekontacket, Lagoon and Farm) from the Massachusetts Estuaries Project in the next several weeks. Both the commercial shellfishermen and longtime recreational fishermen have made observations of the changes in the ponds over the years. That knowledge and history is valuable as we begin to make decisions on how and how much we need to reduce the nitrogen entering our ponds, or treat it once in the ponds. David W. GrundenOak Bluffs Shellfish Constable