PROVINCETOWN — A Barnstable Superior Court judge last month ordered the North Shore owner of a 70-foot sea clam boat to pay $7,500 in docking fees and obtain a permit from the local conservation commission before he can dredge for clams again in Provincetown.
Howard “Monte” Rome of Gloucester, owner of the F/V Tom Slaughter and the wholesale seafood company Intershell, must pay the Provincetown Public Pier Corp. for docking at Provincetown’s MacMillan Pier in 2014 and 2015 when he was using hydraulic dredging gear to harvest sea clams from a two-square-mile area inside a 40-foot “contour zone” off Herring Cove Beach.
Rather than pay his docking fees, Rome sued the town in 2015 after being served with a cease-and-desist order prohibiting him and three other fishing boat owners from conducting hydraulic dredging.
This type of clamming involves aiming 50 to 100 pounds of water pressure at the ocean floor to loosen the clams, a practice the conservation commission considers harmful to the sea floor environment. A 2007 town regulation requires hydraulic clammers to obtain permits from the town.
The three other clammers’ cases were resolved with similar outcomes. If they want to use this method of clamming, they must seek conservation commission permits, said Town Manager Alex Morse.
But the settlements leave unanswered questions.
It is unclear which government entity has jurisdiction over this kind of clamming in this particular place. The state Div. of Marine Fisheries (DMF) governs clamming, and towns regulate dredging activities that close to shore, said Dan McKiernan, director of the DMF.
“The judge felt both laws had standing, and I am not going to argue with the judge,” McKiernan said.
The court case offers no clear enforcement strategy, nor does it ban all hydraulic clammers.
Jamie Staniscia, chair of the Pier Corp., asked Greg Corbo, the KP Law attorney who represented the town in the case, to suggest enforcement methods. Corbo offered two possibilities. First, the town could identify the fishermen and then ban them from using MacMillan Pier. Or, in a two-step process, the harbormaster could allow those known to be doing hydraulic clamming to offload their clams once and tell them that if they do it again, they will have to prove they were outside the 40-foot contour or they would be banned from the pier.
Rome, who lived in Provincetown for 20 years before moving to Gloucester, said he will be applying for a conservation commission permit in January. But he said, the central issue of jurisdiction remains unresolved. “If all cities are allowed to take over state waters, I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” Rome said.
Tim Famulare, Provincetown’s environmental planner and conservation agent, said he could not talk about the Rome case until the judge signs the settlement agreement.
Morse told the select board on Dec. 13 that there are only 12 hydraulic dredging permits in the entire state and none in Provincetown, so he did not expect an onslaught of other boats coming to Herring Cove.
“Our hope is to work with the DMF to ban it altogether,” Morse said.
But it is not clear that such an approach would go anywhere. DMF Director McKiernan said he disagrees with the town’s assessment that using water pressure is actually dredging.
“We don’t think the Wetlands Protection Act meant for towns to regulate this,” McKiernan said.