2003 Report of the

Harbormaster/Natural Resources


Tom Leach onboard COMMANDER. Tom Leach will celebrate thirty years as Harwich's Harbormaster and Natural Resources Director in May.

Riding the hip of a momentarily upturned economy and enforced budgetary cuts, the harbors had a successful year. Boating on Cape Cod remains an important recreational activity in this period of national security where travel and tourism have had their limitations. A long snowy winter followed by a very rainy spring brought our pond levels and water table back to normal. Unfortunately, a foggy spring remained on tap and cool ocean temperatures effected the migration and fishing of all species on this end of Nantucket Sound. Late September brought a tuna bite for the fishermen and kept the port busy until October 23rd.

Many folks gave their time and advice to make our harbors the best. The thought that Harwich folks are proud of their town is demonstrated by an outpouring of volunteers who lend a hand in so many of the programs here at the harbor and natural resources department. We are very proud to live and work in a community that cherishes its roots with people who care about its environmental values.

No-Discharge Area Success

The Harwich No-Discharge Area Clean Vessel Act Program (CVA) continues to be successful with good participation from boaters who have learned to count on our dependable and reliable sanitary services. Harwich can be proud that it continues to lead the State in promoting best harbor management practices when it comes to reducing the effects of waste and pollution. This is no small efforts that requires diligence by all our staff from doing the actual work to record keeping and grant renewal which keeps the process going.

Inspector General criticizes mooring procedures

An argument between a recreational boater over the use of the private fuel dock at Harwich Port Boat Works erupted into upheaval that threatens the fabric of the way the Town operates its waterfront and cares for its water-dependant businesses. Mooring practices until now have been anchored by a legal opinion issued in 1988, which urged, because of crowding of facilities, that the harbormaster and the town adopt a comprehensive management plan. The policy would not recommend allowing the private boat yard operators to issue a certain number of mooring permits for each facility be changed. However, a report issued in July 2003 by the state Inspector General’s Office in response to a formal complaint criticized the harbormaster for failing to implement a fair and equitable assignment of moorings from the waiting list for use of new and vacant moorings controlled by Harwich Port Boat Works and other entities.

When it comes to our harbors, boat yard operations have always been considered a vital element in the use and management equation retaining the privilege of loading vacated rental moorings from within their system. This was upheld until now, because without their facilities which provide access to the water, parking spaces for vehicles and mooring space for the dinghies used to get to the mooring, many people would be denied access to the water and the town does not have adequate shoreside facilities at either Allen Harbor or Wychmere Harbor to service the number of moorings which can be safely placed there. Cooperation, between the private sector and the town, has been conducive to maximizing the use and enjoyment of the harbors.

However, the inspector general’s report has forced the Waterways Commission and Board of Selectmen to revisit the 15 year old Harbor Management Plan and how the town does its waterfront business. As we closed out the year the selectmen have offered a draft of suggested changes to the document most notably requiring the boat yards to accept people from the central public waiting lists for geographic areas, requiring mooring servicing agents to be registered and insured, require mooring inspections to take place annually, require permit holders to "use-it" or "lose-it" as far as occupancy is concerned, and limit the number of boats that anyone may have in Harwich to two vessels. The situation from the boat yards standpoint is volatile. Mooring infractions would carry a $100 fine or removal of the mooring.

One thing that is clear is that in order for this department to carry out such a plan the Harbormasters Office needs additional help. Other towns in Massachusetts are carefully watching this controversy as the chance of spill over of this impact rests squarely on the shoulders of each city or town that has a harbor.

Bulkhead Repair and Harbor Improvements

Owing to rusted out anchor ties the Allen Harbor Town Bulkhead was again been revived to live a third life. The department had been monitoring the slow collapse of the north–south bulkhead at Allen Harbor after it was noticed that a conspicuous bulge was developing at the Boat Ramp end in March. This was the same situation that occurred a little over ten years before because of electrolysis eating out the dead-men tie-backs. At that time the full wall surged forward creating a crevasse. However, this time quick work by the Town through emergency funding has kept the extent and cost of the damage to a minimum. A bid for $49,000 was awarded to Reagan Construction Corp. of Middletown, RI who replaced all the underpinnings according to a plan drawn by the Engineering Department.

The replacement of the final 18 additional power centers has completed our plan of replacing all the working power posts at Saquatucket harbor. The new system from Marina Power and Lighting of Florida gives our municipal marina a new and updated look and at the same time more efficient night time lighting. Our needs for desperately needed power accessibility on the docks have been met for now.

Kayak Safety Bill

Heinz Proft, assistant Harbormaster, mans the helm of the Town Harbormaster vessel COMMANDER during search for missing kayakers in October.

A tragedy that every harbormaster dreads prompted us to seek redress by the Massachusetts General Court. On a seasonably warm Columbus Day, two young women paddled off into the fog at Ayer Lane never to be seen alive again. What ensued was a two day recovery operation by Coast Guard, Harbormasters, Police and Fire. What is more important is that we have moved Representative Shirley Gomes and State Senator Robert O’Leary to file a kayak safety Bill to require that paddlers wear their life jackets year-round while moving on the water.

Too often kayakers are seen not wearing their life jackets, even when conditions merit it. Further, open recreational kayaks are usually sold without flotation. A typical capsize or swamping leaves these light plastic vessels awash and with no chance for self-rescue or even using the floating hull as a raft, the chance of drowning and/or dying from hypothermia increases dramatically. Harbormasters believe further the proposed requirement of a whistle attached to the life jacket and a compass is a minimal requirement for safety for even the least experienced paddler. The bill is being called the Mary Jagoda and Sarah Aronoff Kayak Safety Amendment to MGL Chapter 90B. Had they had a compass or whistle a happy return to the beach would have almost been guaranteed. The submerged kayaks and Jagoda's body was found 14 miles from where they began more than 36 hours later. Aronoff's body has not yet been found. Neither was wearing a PFD.


The tragedy that befell the kayakers became the inspiration for the Harwich and Chatham Harbormasters to put their collective heads together and create a new volunteer group of boaters mostly fishermen to be first responders when need arises. Early resources at the time of a reported missing person or missing boat, whether on land or sea, are critical to having a happy ending. Daylight and good visibility are usually at a premium in cases where people are lost at sea. It was in response to the advice of several fishermen that the All-Volunteer Emergency Response Team (AVERT) is being formed.

Tuna Landings

The Blue fin season got off to a rocky start with the first tuna not being landed until September 5th. A total of 51 permits were sold representing 41% fewer boats chasing fish than in 2002. Although the daily record of 90 fish came this year in October, the overall landing and long frustrating periods of poor fishing were extended for most of September with a real bight not coming until October. Our system of controlling and monitoring landings through an extended corps of assistant harbormasters worked well giving us the controls we need to ensure that everyone is playing by the rules and paying their fees. The tuna fleet is highly regulated also being monitored by State Environmental Police, The National Marine Fisheries Service, US Customs Agents, as well as the Coast Guard. Effectively, several infractions were caught and dealt with to the extent of law including exceeding bag limits.

Tuna time is an exciting moment for Harwich Port and brings a significant boost to the local economy that we have grown to enjoy.

The Board of Selectmen voted to follow the recommendation of the Insurance Advisory Committee requiring passenger boats carry a minimum requirement of $500,000 liability policy for personal injury.

Herring River Bridge back in order

The Mass Highway Department completed without mishap and ahead of schedule the replacement deck for the Lower County Road Bridge. The punch list of boater concerns was addressed on the project. The new structure actually improved the overhead clearance of the bridge now a full 11 feet at MHW. All bolt heads within the channel bay were counter sunk. Tidal boards were also added on either side of the bridge by this office in August to improve the mariners understanding of anticipating clearance heights.

A new breakwater tower and flashing light was constructed and replaced the old stanchion at Herring River.

Income and Budget

The Harbor Department could not escape the hand of the budget crunch under the recommendation of the Town Administrator. Overall the harbor budget sustained a massive 14.75% cut leaving us to take somewhat of a triage approach to how we deal with repairs, keeping the core intact. At the same time dockage and harbor usage fees were increased a total of 10% across the board.





Saquatucket Dockage




Visitor Dockage




Offload Permits




Fuel Dock Commission




Mooring Fees




Ramp Fee Collected




Allen Harbor Dockage




List Waiting Fee




Allen Harbor Winter Storage




Wychmere Town Pier




Ice Receipts
















Deposits on 2003 (collected 2002)








Total 2003 fees generated








Harbor Expense Budget




Salaries & Wages













Commercial fishermen subject to massive loss in work days

Harwich Ports commercial fishing fleet made up of small ground-fish vessels using lightweight trawl gear, have on average been reduced from 97 to 53 days at sea by law. Overall this represents a 44% reduction in days at sea with many vessels receiving even less allocation. All this makes it harder and harder to for each fishermen to operate in the black.

There is a little hope the plan which currently allows fishermen the opportunity to lease additional days at sea from other fishing vessels can do them immediate good. The biggest change this year was that the sector allocation was approved and that 20% of all cod caught on Georges Bank is now guaranteed for hook fishing vessels.

Harwich fishermen participated in a haddock assessment program that paid them to go into certain closed areas of Georges Bank to demonstrate that haddock can be selectively caught with herring baited hooks without a cod by-catch. Every indication is a gigantic haddock class is coming of age, perhaps even greater than in the heyday years of the 1960's when 100,000 tons a year were hauled out of local waters. Thirteen of our cod fishermen also participated in an ongoing cod-tagging program as part of a migration and distribution study that is gleaning new information.

The Harbor Patrol was called out by the Coast Guard to aid search for survivors of the crash of a commercial plane off Yarmouth.

Shellfish Quahog Dragging opened in Nantucket Sound

Owing to a report of a good stock of shellfish and a dramatic need for commercial fishermen to diversify, the Board of Selectmen opened portions of Nantucket Sound to deep-water hydraulic power dredging early in the year. Requirements mean shellfishermen must have an appropriate commercial boat and offloading permit for use of town docks. All shellfish must be offloaded at a town of Harwich landing. Vessels in the fishery that do not have an offloading permit can have no more than a 90 horsepower engine.

The allowable catch limit for quahogs is 40 bushels per day, per vessel with a limit on littlenecks of 20 bushels per day. Quahogs in anyway fitting through a two-and-a-half-inch ring must be counted as littlenecks. Catch limits may be changed on the recommendation of the division of marine fisheries. At the close of the year the vessels have stayed out in the more lucrative deeper federal waters (outside 3 nautical miles) and have ventured infrequently into this Town zone.


Shellfish Laboratory 10th Anniversary

The Shellfish Laboratory celebrated its’ 10th year of rearing shellfish. In that time, Harwich raised nearly 20 million quahog seed. More than 2.1 million quahog seed were reared throughout the summer in the lab and grew from (1-3 mm) to an average of (9 mm) in size. A significant amount of quahog seed grew to as large as 25 mm. While a portion of our quahog seed was purchased independently by the Town, the majority of the seed was the result of a Barnstable County Seed Grant Program. Routinely, the Shellfish Seed Program has purchased seed from a variety of hatcheries. The Division of Marine Fisheries allotted the entire contract for quantity, quality, and price to Aquaculture Research Corporation (ARC) for all of the seed for the program this year.

The Harwich Shellfish Lab was also the site of our sixth high school summer aquaculture internship program. The six week program, managed by Heinz Proft, enabled students, Ben Lattimer, Liam Thomson, and Matt Brown along with teaching supervisor Mr. Robert Smeltzer to work closely with the Natural Resources Department to monitor and maintain the Shellfish nursery during its’ busiest time. The lab, open to the general public, received over 350 visitors this year bringing our total to nearly 3,000 visitors in the past 6 years. Funding for the internship program was received from the Barnstable County Enhancement Grant Program and the Town of Harwich. The shellfish from the lab were seeded in Herring River, Allen Harbor, Oyster Creek, Wychmere Harbor, Saquatucket Harbor, Pleasant Bay/Muddy Creek, and Round Cove.

The lab reared quahog seed were tested as required by DMF for Dermo, QPX, and an array of other harmful parasites before they can be broadcast throughout the local shellfishing areas. This has been the third consecutive year for such testing and once again our shellfish received a clean bill of health from the shellfish pathology department at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole.

Warden Volunteers help make Department Functional

To patrol the local shellfishing flats we again relied on the assistance provided by our dedicated group of volunteer shellfish wardens. Jim Coyle, Ron Saulnier, and Dean Knight were very generous with their time and energy. The assistance provided by our volunteer corps certainly makes the Natural Resources Department a more efficient, more productive group. We thank all our volunteers for their effort.


2003 Shellfish Permits Sold

Resident Family



Non-Resident Family









One-Day Non-Resident







Natural Resources Director Tom Leach at the decaying Johnson's Flume Herring Ladder.

Herring Run Repair and Future Policy

In order to have Johnson’s Flume functioning properly this spring a rubber liner was fabricated and placed in the lower flume. This liner helped to prevent the escape of water though the rusted sides of the lower ladder and kept the movement of fish upstream as a temporary measure. In the mean time, the Town received approval of a grant from the US Soil Conservation and Natural Resources Service to fund the replacement of the rusted out steel flume with a concrete structure. A low bid was awarded to MMC Mechanical Contractors of Braintree for $35,000 who must complete the project by April 1st. Because of the reimbursement nature of this grant, the Finance Committee has allowed some sound yet creative financing for this emergency project to go forward without an article through use and reimbursement of the reserve fund.

Owing to droughts of the recent past, it was a very poor run of herring as anticipated. So bad that most of the time during the eight weeks of the run it was very hard for a permit holder to catch but a few herring instead of a generous five-gallon pail full. Since the recovery of herring is in a thee-year cycle the expectation for a poor run is cemented through 2006. The Natural Resources Department recommended that at the very least the alewife limits be reduced and a complete moratorium be instituted.

Although the herring run this year was a disappointment, several factors including previous drought years and low water levels contributed to severe reduction in migrating herring up through the herring ladder. Herring were observed in the fish ladder from March 18th, through June 10th, 2003. The Natural Resources Department had volunteer herring wardens specifically designated to help address the issues and regulations surrounding the herring run on a daily basis. We would like to thank Michael Sekerak, Garry and Sue Stephens, Jack Schultz, Dean Knight, and Paul Eldredge for the help they provided at the herring run.

The Natural Resources Department submitted a Notice of Intent and received permission to maintain the river and keep it free of obstructions for the next 5 years before April 15th. This will allow the Department to tackle the problems as soon as they occur without having to revisit the permitting parties each time the Herring River needs attention. We would like to thank the members of the Barnstable County Americorps who have helped on several occasions to clear debris and obstructions from the herring river and associated tributaries.

Phytoplankton Monitoring Program and Water Quality Data

The ongoing collection of scientific data continued in 2003 including our involvement with the Massachusetts Phytoplankton Monitoring Program. This program was coordinated by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and involved collecting data from 18 stations along the coast of Massachusetts including the Cape and Islands to determine the location and densities of potential toxin producing phytoplankton.

Local water quality monitoring continued in full force sampling Saquatucket Harbor, Wychmere Harbor, Allen Harbor, Herring River, and 12 freshwater ponds. These areas were simultaneously sampled several times throughout the summer in order to continue collecting reliable water quality for our database. The database includes nitrates, phosphates, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen levels, and fecal coliform levels for each station.

A project of this magnitude could only be completed with the dedication of our hard working volunteers – Ken Pedini, Charles McAdams, Mary Henry, Stan Kocot, Alan Atkinson, Pete Watson, Jane Myers, Virginia Nabors, Barbara Murphy, Anne Watson, Bill Myers, Nancy McCarter, Frank Sampson, Anne and Abigail Hynes, Rich Houston, Bob and Trudy Goodwin, Bill Clary, Walter Gonet, Ron Bellengi, Jay Kennedy, Ed Molnar, Catherine Paris, Patti Gregory, George Whitehead, Peg Mulligan, Tonry Piro, Matt Brown, Michael and Jo Schreibman, Paul and Joann Ralston, Dave Robinson, Lorraine Donnelly, Bill Otis, John and Lynn Blitzer, Charlie and Judy Donovan, Mike and Kathy Arcangeli, Richard and Sandy Bolduc, Al Winchell, Terry Gavin, Deborah O’Connor, John Howes, Dawn Collins, Dannette Gonsalves, Chet Burg, Betty Bagshaw, John Graves, and Linda Schultz. Harwich also continued its’ water quality sampling as part of the Pleasant Bay Resource Management Alliance and would like to thank Al and Barbara Williams, Dave Bennett, George Cooper, Bill Clarey, Dan Hamilton, Anne and Abigail Hynes, Rich Houston, Martin Gardiner, Jean Raymond, Tina Maloney, and Walt McClean for their assistance.

Oceanographic data collection from Nantucket Sound was also completed using the Harbormaster vessel Commander. This was the sixth year that such data as water temperature, water salinity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity were recorded from the sampling locations for our ongoing database.

Allen Harbor Watershed Study

A fecal coliform study of the Allen’s Harbor Watershed was completed by the environmental engineers and scientists at Stearns & Wheeler, LLC. The primary goal of the study was to identify the most likely sources of fecal coliform in the watershed and then to make recommendations to mitigate the sources and reduce the health risks associated with shellfish closures and water recreation in the Harbor. The report drew some interesting conclusions implicating the ever present raccoon as a significant contributor to the fecal coliform loading to the area. Racoon reproduce and prey on the fiddler crab populations within the estuary.

The Harwich Natural Resources Department continues to receive assistance on many projects from volunteers. A great deal of thanks is extended to Bob Cooney and Jen Buadanza who spent many summer days and evenings tending to the shellfish lab.

Seaweed Problems plague Harwich Beach

Complaints about nuisance seaweed at Red River reached this office in August. The town has tried to address seaweed problems along Red River Beach over the years using many different techniques but it is an effort that is up against several factors that continue piling of the tubular seaweed which include strong southwest winds and moon tides. Efforts to stock pile the weed in a "Dune Restoration" project at the west end of Red River beach have contributed to the release of methane from the inefficient breakdown of the material. Further, some believe that the presence of an enormous volume of dead slipper shells, Crepidula fornicata, have added its share of offensive smell from the dying protein.

Assistant Harbormaster & shellfish warden Jim Coyle investigating a sweeping 18" thick mat of codium that choked Wychmere Harbor after an autumn easterly.

In August, the County Extension Service recommended we seek advice from Tom Constantine, an odor expert from Global Odor Control, New Bedford. He visited the site with Tom Leach and said there was no way the odor problem could be controlled on site as the town was attempting to do. The dune restoration effort was not a composting plan which literally would require huge volumes of dead leaves and wood chips and aeration to be successful. Red River is not the appropriate site.

At the suggestion agriculture agent Bill Clark the Harwich Natural Resources Department shipped a representative sample of the weed and shells to the analytical Lab at the University of Maine for a compost analysis report which reported surprising little nitrogen in the sample but very high conductivity which may indicate that the use of the final compost may have limitations as a fertilizer since sensitivity for plants begins at >5.0 conductivity.



STANDARD ANALYSIS (Red River seaweed sample 10/23/03)


Dry Basis

As is Basis

Total Solids (%)



Total Carbon (%)



Total Nitrogen (%)



Total Potassium (%)



Total Phosphorous (%)



Volatile Solids (%)



Bulk Density (lbs/cu.yd)



C:N Ratio







In November a southeasterly storm brought a huge codium mat off Nantucket Sound through the narrow channel and effectively plugged Wychmere Harbor for more than a week. Later, owing to a huge NW windstorm and high course tide in November virtually all of the seaweed floated free away from Red River beach leaving the rows of slipper shells. Of course, Harwich cannot count on nature removing seaweed in the future and a solid answer to its control remains short-lived.

Homeland Security

Always wear your life jacket!

During this period of Homeland Security both Tom Leach and Heinz Proft attended several port security meetings to make us aware of the risks associated with waterfront terrorism particularly in ports with passenger ferry services. Many harbormasters in Massachusetts were invited under Seaport Bond Funding from the Homeland Security Act to attend training to update or gain a Merchant Marine license. Tom Leach and assistant harbormaster Peter McDermott attended the Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven and each qualified for a 50 ton captains license with commercial assistance towing endorsement.

Just when we thought we knew a lot about harbors and their management we continue to relive problems and find solutions many of which come from suggestions of the public and boaters. We are left with this parting thought…. ask not what your harbor can do for you, ask what you can do for your harbor!

Respectfully submitted,

Thomas E. Leach, Harbormaster/ Natural Resources Director

Heinz M. Proft, Assistant