Groin Reconstruction Draws Concerns About Shellfish Bed

by William F. Galvin
The Chronicle (5/20/99)
HARWICH --- The repaired groin to the west of Pleasant Road Beach may be altering the shellfish bed to the east side of the structure, according to local shellfishermen, who are expressing concerns the impacts might deplete the scallop population that has existed there for years. The Conservation Commission, last week, withheld a grant of a certificate of compliance on the order of conditions it issued to the Old Mill Point Association more than a year ago, until it could determine whether the reconstructed groin is the cause of changes in the ocean bottom to the east.

"The reconstruction of the jetty to the west of Pleasant Street Beach in West Harwich has caused a large shoaling problem on the east side of the jetty. Last year there were large patches of eel grass in the entire area. There is now a fairly substantial sandbar building to the east side of the jetty. This area is only one of a very few in which scallops reproduce in the entire town of Harwich," explained shellfisherman Brent Hemeon in a letter to the commission.

He went on to say if the eel grass keeps being destroyed in this manner there will be no scallops left as the spat needs that grass to survive in early stages of life. Hemeon said the sandbar was not there before the reconstruction of the groin and that the improved structure is the cause of the situation. "I am most worried about the eel grass and the native population of scallops that have been in existence since time in memorial," wrote shellfisherman Ernest E. Smith to the commission earlier this month. Smith expressed the same sentiments as Hemeon, citing groin reconstruction as the basis for a developing sandbar eliminating eel grass essential to the protection of spat scallops.

Hemeon estimated between 100 and 200 feet of eel grass beds have been lost since the groin reconstruction and he added a bar is definitely forming around the end of that structure. "I see a problem, if it was created from an error, it should be fixed," Hemeon told The Chronicle this week. "If it (the eel grass) keeps going and is gone some day, it will take many, many years for it to come back. It breaks my heart to see it go, it's death to the scallops." Hemeon said they don't get many scallops out of that patch each year, but there are several patches along that shoreline and there is the potential for a good scallop year.

Natural Resources Officer Thomas Leach said he dispatched his assistant, Heinz Proft, to the location after hearing of these concerns, but they couldn't determine whether conditions have changed based on an increased presence of a sandbar there. "Brent's (Hemeon) there all the time," stated Leach. "He spends a lot of time there looking for scallops and quahogs." Leach said it is possible some of the sand to the west is being blown over the jetty or sweeping around the tip of the groin and filling in there. But they will have to keep a closer eye on the situation to determine any impacts.

The natural resource officer said they have tried to keep that area open as a shellfish ground because of its easy access from Pleasant Road Beach, especially when other locations, such as Herring River are closed because of water quality. His department planted quahog seed at that location two years ago, but he admitted it doesn't look like they have taken hold because of the dynamics there, according to Leach. The Shellfish and Marine Water Quality Committee wants his department to continue seeding that area each year, Leach said. "The quahogs haven't taken, you're lucky to find a scattered handful," Leach stated. In light of these concerns, the Conservation Commission agreed last Tuesday not to issue a certificate of compliance for the groin work, instead they decided to hold off until the full-growing season for eel grass to examine the impacts there.

There have been some problems with that groin reconstruction project. The initial reconstruction elevation was as much as two feet higher than the previous structure on the beach end and the commission required the Old Mill Point Association to have the contractor come back in and lower the landward section to conform to the plans. Fill was also brought in to raise the height of the beach to allow sand to blow across the groin and into the water on the east side to nourish that area because it was thought reconstruction of the structure would starve the ocean bottom to the east side of wind-blown sand.

Conservation Commission Chairman David Crestin said on Monday there is no reason to issue a certificate of compliance at this point and they will reassess the situation in July or August when the grass growth is at it full height. The littoral drift of offshore sandbars are evident in this aerial photograph of the Nantucket Sound shoreline. The groin to the west of Pleasant Road Beach had gone through its first reconstruction at the time the photograph was taken for the town of Harwich in July of 1998.