Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said he is extremely frustrated with a state decision to keep Sengekontacket Pond closed to shellfishing again this summer. But the state official who analyzes water quality data raised the possibility that the pond closures may not be temporary.
“This may be a place that just isn’t going to be open,” Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) environmental analyst Michael Hickey said in a telephone conversation with The Times. “I can’t open a place and say to the world it meets approved criteria all the time, when I’m not sure exactly what’s affecting it.”
The pond has been closed to shellfishing for the past five summers. Because of water samples that showed higher than allowable levels of fecal coliform bacteria primarily attributed to waterfowl waste, the pond was closed to shellfishing.
In what Mr. Bagnall described as a heated meeting earlier this month, Mr. Hickey told Island shellfish constables the state needs more water quality data before deciding whether to lift the “conditionally approved” designation, which requires the pond to be closed from June 1 to September 30. The state is now considering whether to designate Sengekontacket a “rainfall closure area,” to be closed for a few days only after rainstorms, when pollutants tend to wash into the pond.
DMF began collecting additional water quality data last summer. The agency needs to take samples before and after rainfall, during a low tide.
“There was a point where we were collecting data, we were testing a hypothesis, we thought the problem was a certain set of conditions,” Mr. Hickey said. “We were designing our sampling around those conditions, and came to the conclusion that it was more complicated. We added a couple of (testing) stations. This summer we’re adding another station.”
Mr. Hickey said it routinely takes one or two years to gather enough data, and he anticipates his staff could collect enough data this summer to make decisions. DMF aquatic biologist Mike Syslo, a year-round Island resident, operates out of a DMF office in the former lobster hatchery in Oak Bluffs.
Mr. Bagnall said the state requires all sampling to be done by DMF staff, and analyzed at the state lab in New Bedford.
“All the samples have to be run through the DMF,” Mr. Bagnall said. “It’s a matter of resources, they don’t have enough.”
Mr. Bagnall and Mr. Hickey said the data around the rainstorms tested so far is inconclusive. They said sometimes water tests show higher than allowable levels after light storms, and sometimes show acceptable levels after very heavy rainstorms. Mr. Bagnall said data-testing conducted recently indicates birds, including cormorants and geese, are the source of more than half of the fecal bacteria in the pond.