After more than a decade, Harpswell coves open for clamming

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HARPSWELL — Five coves that were closed to shellfish harvesting for more than a decade reopened July 30.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources had previously prohibited harvesting at Dog’s Head Cove, Gun Point Cove, Indian Rest, Oakhurst Island and Ridley Cove, and Quahog Bay.

Darcie Couture, the town’s marine resource coordinator, told the Board of Selectmen Aug. 20 that the areas were closed for two reasons.

Some had been shut down due to pollution issues, she said, that have “since been remediated.”

But others were closed because sanitary surveys the DMR is supposed to do every 12 years were out of date.

Getting the DMR to recognize the areas as clean and conduct their surveys took a lot of “pushing,” Couture said.

David Wilson, head of the Marine Resources Committee, echoed Couture on Tuesday.

He told selectmen the committee had to consistently “nag” the DMR to get the surveys done and reclassify the areas. Hiring Couture as its marine consultant in 2014 gave them “a lot of extra ammo,” he said.

The areas, which are mapped on the town website, are open to commercial harvest of soft-shell clams Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays.

The committee limited the harvest to three days to avoid a “gold-rush mentality” and immediately deplete the resource, Couture said.

The reopening of the areas is “one of the most significant changes in marine resources in Harpswell,” she said, because “there’s just not a whole lot of clams left these days.”

Statewide, landings of soft-shell clams have declined from 40 million pounds in 1977 to just about 10 million pounds in 2014, according to data from the DMR.

Scientists and harvesters attribute the decimation to a number of environmental factors, including green crab predation, ocean acidification, and a disease called neoplasia. Competing pressure with blood worm harvesters on the mud flats has also stressed the resource, clammers say.

Even with new areas to harvest, making a living as a clammer in Harpswell is getting harder and harder.

At the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, one clammer suggested they reach out to real estate mogul and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to join the Harpswell Marine Resources Committee.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

A hatchery-reared soft-shell clam, from a Friends of Casco Bay study on ocean acidification.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.