That's all progress. But Jeff Kennedy, a DMF biologist who runs point on the Re-Clam project, says the Thompson Island cultivation won't restore wetlands to the heyday of 10 years ago. "We know it can't have a huge effect," he says of Re-Clam's relative impact. "A natural set [of seeds] will dwarf any of our efforts." Kennedy is optimistic, however, and says that local clammers have proven themselves as a political force to be reckoned with. "The diggers are more organized than ever before, and that's a good thing," he says. "What we're trying to do is ameliorate the poor years and sustain the harvest levels so that they don't see huge drops in income."

As for the tug of war with Massport, the odds appear to be stacked against the diggers. Denehy and his association have more or less given up trying to stop Logan safety expansions, while on the fuel-spill front, it remains the official position of Massport that there was no direct damage to the clam population. Brelis says the agency has pledged to spend "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to re-seed Harbor beaches — mostly in Hull, where Boston diggers aren't permitted to work — but clammers say they'll believe it when they see it. So far they've been cut out of the conversation, and not just this time. There have been more than 6000 gallons of hazardous materials spilled at Logan since 2004; any of those incidents could have potentially poisoned valuable wetlands.

Team Denehy is still fighting; this week they met with representatives of US Senator John Kerry, US Congressman Stephen Lynch, and Massport to request future land replacements and other compensatory measures. But for the time being, construction continues at Logan, while clammers see more road blocks, and fewer five-bushel outings.

Out here on Thompson's Island, on the most ideal dig-weather day imaginable, the friendly competition is on. At least for a few hours, Denehy can forget about the dirty part of his job — the politics — and make an honest living. He eyes an air hole in the mud, kneels down, and swings his clamming hoe at the wet turf. It's just another day at the beach, with the teammates digging their hearts out, eager to bag some fat bushels and make a few clams.

"We're just a few guys going up against Goliath," says Denehy. "I'm well aware of that. But what people have to understand is that we were here before Massport, and that all we're asking for is a seat at the table so that we can protect what some of our families have been doing for generations. People have been harvesting clams in Boston Harbor for hundreds of years. . . . It's a billion-dollar natural resource — we can't just allow Massport to come in here and ruin it as if we have nothing to say."

Follow Chris Faraone on Twitter @fara1.

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