By John Pappalardo
We’re kicking off a new initiative here at the Alliance, and at first glance the focus might surprise you but the longer you ponder, the more sense it makes:
We are going to offer as much help as we can to improve dredging for the harbors and ports in our communities.
· Without access to the sea, our fleet has no chance. Good dredging is like highway maintenance, crucial access for the economy and the movement of people and goods.
· This is not just a fishermen’s issue. All boaters need open channels. Every town relies on harbors functioning well. The Blue Economy turns a different color without dredging.
· Barnstable County has a dredging program already in place that has seen dramatic improvements over the past year or so. It is a big public works success, saving towns a lot of money, self-sustaining based on reasonable fees charged. We want to support and expand the program.
· Organizing community support for better dredging protocols will create the necessary pressure and profile to improve policies and funding. And there’s plenty of room for more support at both state and federal levels.
· We’re convinced that good dredging projects, properly located, do little or no environmental harm mainly because areas that need dredging by definition are dynamic, shoaling, shifting – not locations that by and large encourage fish or even shellfish density.
· Then there’s the great secondary benefit, using “spoils” piped out of the channels to replenish beaches and hold onto shoreline without having to “armor” the coast with rock walls that usually accelerate erosion at their edges.
Sounds like obvious public benefit, but all kinds of issues shoal up when it comes to dredging:
· State and federal permits can take forever, even when it’s a simple renewal of an existing approval.
· There are what people call TOY restrictions. No fun and games here, Time Of Year closures can make it impossible to get multiple projects done given a small window of time – and sometimes the supposed reason for the TOY restriction is because winter flounder, for example, might be spawning; no one has seen spawning winter flounder in our harbors for decades.
· Come summer, when the beaches are crowded, it’s also not a great time to start pumping sand above high tide. Not only do people hate having their beach blankets buried, but sometimes sand coming off the bottom doesn’t smell so great for a little while.
· The county has two hydraulic dredges as opposed to mechanical dredges. They do great work, but there are situations in which hydraulics don’t apply, you need to dig up the muck and dump it on a barge rather than piping it out. Investing in a mechanical dredge is something the county could do, pay for itself and provide better service. No way that scales for individual towns.
So no surprise that when the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, working with the UMass Boston Urban Harbors Institute and our team, surveyed every port in the Commonwealth to identify the most important issues harbormasters and fishermen say they face, dredging came back as number one, up and down the coast.
Last year the county dredges were busy. They worked in 10 Cape towns, 16 projects, cleared roughly 150,000 cubic yards of sand — the most ever in a year. There’s plenty of controversy between Eastham and Orleans over whether sections of their shared coast should be dredged, but generally speaking these projects are not controversial, they are celebrated, and necessary. Those sentiments are sure to grow as climate change accelerates.
Our goal isn’t to define what steps need to be taken first, second, and third. We want to make ourselves available to public officials, from towns to county, state, and feds. We want to lend support. And over time, I think we’ve shown that when it helps to bring people to the table, engage with public officials, hammer out new policies or nail down new funding, we know how to roll up our sleeves.
Count us in. As a Fishermen’s Alliance, we see this as part of our community responsibility.