City officials say New Bedford Harbor is cleaner and there are fewer "mystery oil spills," thanks to a program begun last year by the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection and the New Bedford Harbor Development Commission.

The Clean Bilge Program was highlighted Thursday during a news conference on Pier 3. The pilot program offers fishing boat owners the chance to pump out their bilge at no cost to them.

Program director and retired fisherman Rodney Avila tells WBSM News, 127 vessels have signed up so far. "Years ago, no matter where you went in this harbor, there was always oil somewhere. I started fishing in 1957, and this is the cleanest I've seen this harbor right now," said Avila.

Avila is approaching boat owners and convincing them that using the program is good for both them and the harbor.

Pumping out a vessel on Pier 3 / Jim Phillips TSM

Mark Rasmussen of the Buzzards Bay Coalition says the problem of oil spills in New Bedford Harbor is something that's been talked about for 25 years.

Rasmussen is applauding the program and the number of boat owners who have stepped up so far.  "It's a nervous area for a vessel owner to step into. It involves pollution and potential for fines, and those are touchy issues for any business owner. But instead of going at it stressing enforcement, by offering the program voluntarily, we've seen great response."

Officials say more than 14-thousand gallons of oily bilge water has been properly disposed of, and kept out of New Bedford Harbor.