Sengekontacket summer shellfishing ban extended

Cormorants and geese are partially responsible for high bacteria levels in the pond, according to one study. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

In a last-minute notice that frustrated local shellfish constables and recreational clammers, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) notified Island officials late last Thursday that the summer closure of Sengekontacket Pond would be extended for at least one week.

Oak Bluffs and Edgartown share the pond. The closure extends to both towns.

Paul Bagnall, Edgartown shellfish constable, said DMF will take more samples this week, and he is hopeful Sengekontacket will open for shellfishing tomorrow on Friday, October 7.

For the past five summers, DMF designated the popular salt pond a conditionally approved area because of higher than allowable levels of bacteria in the water. State officials ordered Sengekontacket Pond closed to shellfishing in June, July, August, and September and reopened the pond on October 1.

“This last-minute stuff is a nightmare,” Mr. Bagnall, Edgartown shellfish constable and marine biologist, said. He said that two weeks ago, water at five sampling sights tested over the allowable limit.

“They came in last Tuesday and sampled the five sites that were over, and decided to do another round Wednesday. It came up slightly elevated. If we were open, it wouldn’t be cause to close, but since we were closed, they felt uncomfortable opening on October 1.”

Mr. Bagnall said he spent part of the weekend at Sengekontacket explaining the state decision to people who arrived expecting to gather quahogs and littleneck clams.

The pond opened for recreational bay scallop permit holders on October 1, further confusing local shellfish enthusiasts. The edible scallop muscle does not accumulate bacteria, and is not affected by the shellfish closure.

“We had to tell people they couldn’t take quahogs,” Mr. Bagnall said. “I didn’t want people seeing the closed signs for quahogs, and not go scalloping.”

Eel Pond in Edgartown opened for shellfishing as usual on October 1.