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Clamming: Fishermen, regulators open up

Plastic bags of surf clam meat from Georges Bank were designated for testing on the deck of a ship in September.

Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe/file

Plastic bags of surf clam meat from Georges Bank were designated for testing on the deck of a ship in September.

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The resumption of clamming after 23 years on a once-toxic site off the New England coast should send a message to both the local fishing industry and the federal agencies that oversee it: By working together to find solutions, rather than engaging in endless conflict, fishermen and regulators can give new hope to the local seafood industry.

The small section of Georges Bank was closed to surf clam and quahog shellfishing in 1990 because of toxic algae blooms, leaving untold millions of dollars of seafood on the ocean floor. But a five-year trial in which clammers used a safety testing kit developed by the Food and Drug Administration showed that the area could be safely harvested.

The FDA is now training dozens of other fishermen to use the kit. The resumption of clamming is more than just a demonstration of cooperation between fishermen and the government. It is a reminder of the value of research at state universities. While the FDA developed the test kit, informative assessments of the clams and sea water conditions were conducted by scientists from UMass Dartmouth and the University of Maine. Not all fishing controversies can be solved so easily, but the partial reopening of bivalve beds gives hope for more solutions to maintain a sustainable fishing industry in New England.

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