Estuaries provide significant cultural ecosystem services, including recreation and tourism. Disruptions of estuarine biogeochemical processes resulting from environmental degradation could interrupt the flow of these services, reducing benefits and diminishing the welfare of local communities. This study focused on recreational shellfishing in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts (41.55°N, 70.80°W). Relationships among measures of recreational shellfishing, estuarine water quality, and local socioeconomic conditions were tested to understand how the benefits of cultural ecosystem services to local communities might be affected by declining water quality. Transferring estimated economic benefits from an analysis of nearby municipalities, the study finds that increases in Chl a during the 24-year period were associated with losses in recreational shellfishing benefits of $0.08-0.67 million per decade. The approach presented here suggests a more broadly applicable framework for assessing the impacts of changes in coastal ecosystem water quality on the welfare of local communities.