It’s a small town sticking out into the ocean but size didn’t stop more than 200 Nahant residents from launching a letter campaign successfully urging state officials to cancel a scallop dredging pilot program off Nahant.
The town is a causeway drive away from the rest of Massachusetts but the dredging fight underscored how Nahant is more island than coastal community. Residents who make their living catching lobsters raised concerns about the dredging process involved in scallop harvesting. They said any disruptions to the sea bottom need to be analyzed for their long-term potential impact on lobstering.
To its credit, the state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) sought public comment before commiting to the pilot program. Division Director David Pierce, in a statement explaining the decision to cancel the program, sounded a little surprised about the volume of protest pouring out of tiny Nahant in response to the program proposal.
A broad swath of people representing a wide range of marine interests, including people interested in commercial and recreational fishing, as well as divers, archaeologists and representatives for the owner of an underground natural gas pipeline, weighed in with objections and concerns aimed at the pilot program.
Responding to objections raised by residents and other letter writers, Pierce in his statement, said, “I cannot commit DMF resources to carry out this research that would have to be multi-year and quite expensive.”
His words just as easily could describe the potential implications for long-term damage and costs to local residents making a living off lobsters if scallop dredging took place off Nahant and disrupted sea bottom marine life.
Small communities like Nahant lived and died at the mercy of the ocean centuries ago. The town’s outcry over scallop dredging underscores how closely local resident’s fates are still tied to the sea.
Nahant residents are closely attuned to the ocean and sensitive to decisions affecting sea life. The town takes pride in its status as the location for Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center and, in turn, expects the facility to be a good neighbor. Residents and town officials take a similar perspective concerning the state and federal government.
Residents undoubtedly appreciated DMF’s request for input on the pilot program and the barrage of concerns fired off by residents. But Pierce and other state officials should not be surprised when Nahant guards its marine heritage and is sensitive to the importance of living in harmony with the ocean.