The region's shellfisherman community was spared thanks to effective lobbying by Denehy and others, who persuaded powerful coastal representatives — including House Speaker Bob DeLeo of Winthrop — to fully restore Plum Island funding. Nevertheless, the imminent demise of local digging was not lost on those who rely on the Harbor's natural resources. In years past, an exceptional morning run on Wood Island could yield more than $1500 worth of clams for Team Denehy to split three ways. Even in ideal conditions, experts say it would take more than half a decade to restore those levels.

"We were able to make progress for a long time," says Denehy. "But with the loss of so many productive flats in such a short amount of time, there's really no telling what could happen." Denehy's teammate Gold adds: "We lost more than just income. We lost nurseries that were supposed to be there for years and years to come. I hate to say it, but this could be my last season out here."

Denehy, who clams


Denehy speeds into the sandy parking lot and floors the brakes. He throws his big silver pick-up truck in park, swiftly exits, and within seconds is standing on the tailgate, bare ass against the morning wind, hurriedly changing into his clamming gear — jeans, galoshes, and bright blue rubber gloves. It's 4:30 am, and Denehy's a half-hour behind the other two diggers on his team: Gold, and 23-year-old Larry Carroll, a third-generation clammer in his own right. He grabs more than 50 pounds of equipment — some empty buckets, an orange cooler packed with necessities like bug spray — and breaks fast toward the shore line with two large metal claws slung over his left shoulder.

Today's luck brings no swarms of horseflies or mosquitoes to slow Denehy down. Despite the heavy baggage in his mitts, he treks through a quarter-mile wooded trail in minutes, emerging across the low tide and onto Thompson's Island just as the day breaks over Boston Harbor. He sees his crew in the horizon, and rushes toward them. "These young guys think they can beat me," says Denehy, 39, of Gold and Carroll. "But I've been pretty furious from the moment I wake up, so I've been digging like a madman. I think it's a way to get my anger out."

These days Denehy's not just a clam digger. He's also a lobbyist, spending most days writing letters and making phone calls to help rescue Harbor wetlands and protect his livelihood.

One person answering those cries may be Menino. Some clammers wish he'd stand up to Massport directly, but last Friday Hizzoner did have plans to visit Thompson's Island, with a fleet of volunteers, to sprinkle 54,000 baby soft-shells on the beach. The outing was cancelled due to rain, but DMF workers still plan to deliver twice that many seeds to the island this summer, as well an additional 117,000 to flats in Dorchester and East Boston. The effort is the latest push in the five-year-old $800,000 Re-Clam Boston Harbor project, which has already seeded more than 30 beds in towns outside of the city.

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