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Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Great Bay/Piscataqua River system needs care

IT'S NOT too big a stretch to say that this 76-year-old has Great Bay tidal water running in his veins.

Born in Portsmouth and living within earshot of the water fowling guns going off at "The Bay," my siblings and I learned to swim in Little Bay at our grandmother Bradstreet's seasonally rented camp. Our beach was the mouth of a shoreside gravel pit on Fox Point, where her camp was located on a high-bluff shoreline.

It was also there that my grandfather Earnest took my brother, sister and me out onto the flats to dig clams and pick oysters, which Grammy would turn into the most enjoyable chowder.

Back then, even though there was quite a bit of untreated sewage entering the Piscataqua River system and Great Bay, the system was blooming with huge eel grass beds and lots of finfish, as well as oyster and clam beds that wouldn't quit.

Move ahead about 20 years, with lots of Great Bay outings involving me and my growing family. My wife, Jane, and I were able to purchase a home, not quite on the shoreline but across the street from a seldom-used lane. The home purchase included a legal right of way to the shoreline.

Thus my four kids learned the wonders of The Bay, while friends and relatives were welcome to come to our house for the swimming and shellfishing. We also took advantage of the Bay's striped bass fishing for several years. And there was plenty of everything to keep us happy.

Slowly but surely, we noticed the scum floating down from the Exeter River, and often the local paper announced that the coastal towns that hadn't separated their storm drains from their sewerage systems were having to dump the raw sewage that was overflowing their treatment plants. That put a crimp in our swimming, and we voluntarily gave up shellfishing for some time after those events.

Quick forward to today's Great Bay. The incredible growth of the Seacoast towns that use the Great Bay/Piscataqua River system for their partially treated sewerage systems has taken its toll. Our once massive eel grass beds are a thing of the past. Oysters have suffered from several disease attacks and are just now trying to recover from one that caused very soft shells. Clams are very scarce and can only be harvested in certain places where it's claimed there is no pollution. And the once-incredible population of finfish has dwindled to remnant populations, although global warming has allowed warmer-water species to replace some of The Bay's traditional fishes.

This situation is at a tipping point. The incredible amount of nitrogen that is being added to the natural flows of nitrogen into this wonderful tidal resource has depleted eel grass beds to just about none and allowed invasive species of weeds and fish to invade the waters here.

These nitrogen discharges can be managed by upgrading the technology and capacity of the many municipal and industrial polluters, and should be moved forward at the fastest pace, without all of the political posturing. Or you're going to experience the loss of a great natural resource at the hands of ignorant humans.

Dick Pinney has been involved with conservation issues since his teens and has served in several capacities, paid and voluntary, in this cause. His column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at


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