Clamming agreement will provide data
Not everyone in the clamming community or on the shellfish conservation commission felt adding more licenses was prudent, arguing the town lacked data to really gauge the health of the clam flats and what sort of impact invasive species such as the green crab and milky ribbon worm was having on the crop.
The town will soon have some data to look at thanks to a three-year project partnership with Manomet, a Massachusetts-based non-profit science company that has an office in Brunswick.
In a correspondence with town councilors Marine Officer Ian Anderson said through the arrangement, which the council agreed to unanimously earlier this month, Manomet will provide grant money “to start an intertidal clam farm in the town of Scarborough, providing us with protective netting, seed clam and all other materials needed for the project.
Ethel Wilkerson, a project manager for Manomet said the project is possible through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program. Wilkerson said the grant, which was awarded in 2015, provides funding to set up five commercial clam farms in Maine. Farms already exist in Brunswick and Chebeague Island and another is in the works in Brunswick.
The premise is if the clams can be protected from predators, they stand a better chance to grow to a harvestable, and sellable size.
“The green crabs and predators are eating all the clams. The idea is to protect (the clams) with a net to keep the green crabs away and allow them to grow to a harvestable size,” Wilkerson told the Leader.
It is something professional shellfish harvester Chris Warner has been using at The Heal Eddy Restoration Project, the state’s only commercial-scale softshell clam farm in Georgetown since 2014, when he teamed up with Dr. Brian Beal of Downeast Institute, Dr. John Hagan of Manomet and Georgetown landowner Jay Hold. Warner was scheduled to make a presentation about the concept at the shellfish commission meeting on Tuesday, but the meeting was cancelled because of the snowstorm.
“The technique has worked very well at that site. The notion is to test that idea in other location in Maine,” Wilkerson said.
In January, Manomet sent a round of letters to all the shellfish committees in Maine to see if their communities were interested in participating. Scarborough, Wilkerson said, was quick to express interest.
“This fell into our laps. It’s an unbelievable project. They are going to give us $4,500 worth of clam seed and netting and they are going to come down and watch right over our shoulders and work with us to get 25 protective beds on approximately 1 acre of unusable flats,” David Green, chairman of the shellfish conservation commission said at the March 1 town council meeting. “They don’t want to come down here and take the best mud we have to dig in. They want the worst stuff. They are trying to prove a point.”
Green said the shellfish harvesters in town will use the Manomet project as part of their conservation and research requirement. The harvesters will be tasked with monitoring the approximately 150,000 clams at least monthly through the three-year project. The clam seed will be provided by Downeast Institute in Beals, Maine.
Anderson said a specific location has not been set yet. The site will be jointly selected by a group that will include project representatives, shellfish commission members and other shellfish harvesters, he said
“They don’t want an optimal location. They want to prove protection is what matters,” Anderson said.
Another issue that will be ironed out, Anderson said, is who will benefit from the revenue of the sale of clams once they meet commercial size. Generally that revenue belongs to an individual harvester, but in Scarborough’s case that money could go back to the shellfish commission or even be placed in town coffers.
“In my conversations with Manomet, all other preexisting relationships are with individual harvesters, but they were very interested and excited to hear a town was interested in sponsoring, so I think we will see some slight language changes recognizing the different set up. I think this is really far superior,” Town Manager Tom Hall said.
“It’s an opportunity for the commission to rally around something everyone seems interested in and sees value in,” he continued.
Anderson said the project which “would be a shame to pass up,” will be a great learning opportunity for the shellfish community.
“The diggers and myself will be hands on with the project, learning the research method, the scientific method involved, which will hopefully allows us to continue that research here,” Anderson.
The project also has the full support of the shellfish commission, which several months ago was caught up in in-fighting about how many shellfish permits that town should award this spring, leading to resignation, and then reinstatement of several members.
“We are looking forward to having some help with our predators,” Green said. “This is a giant step at no expense to the town other than the harvesters will be putting in conservation time to make this work.”
“It is nice to see that excitement,” said Town Council Vice Chairman Kate St. Clair. “It’s been a rough year for your committee. I think this might be what it takes to bring everyone back to the table, have a really positive environment and have something for you all to reconnect with.”
Councilor Peter Hayes, who serves as the council’s liaison to the shellfish commission, is also excited about the project.
“I think it makes a lot of sense,” he said “There is some grant money to do a three-year study to set up some sort of plots we can monitor and follow for three years and see the impact and how the clam flats do under these controlled circumstances versus in the open flats.”
The project, Hayes said, will give the shellfish committee local data about the health of the clam flats. Anderson said there is data out there from other communities, but it is hard to relate that information to Scarborough.
“One of the things that the council has asked for is getting some better data about what is happening on our clam flats, what the health of the clam flats is and what are some of the factors influencing it,” he said.
The data from the project will be coupled with data harvesters will be collecting in other parts of the clamflats, something that has been lacking in recent years and something that Anderson said he wanted to reinvigorate.
“This will provide an extra level of data,” he said.
Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org