Brunswick 3rd in Maine soft-shell clam landings; harvesters fear border change

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BRUNSWICK — Clams dug from the vast mudflats of Middle Bay, Thomas Point and Skolfield Cove boosted Brunswick to third in the state for soft-shell clam landings, according to recent figures from the Department of Marine Resources.

In 2010, Brunswick harvesters dug more than 592,000 pounds of steamers, as soft-shell clams are commonly known.

The first- and second-place towns for 2010 soft-shell clam landings were Deer Isle and Waldoboro, respectively. Freeport and Machiasport rounded out the top five, while Harpswell was No. 11 spot, Scarborough No. 12 and Yarmouth No. 16.

“Brunswick does a hell of a job trying to manage those resources and has done historically,” Dennis Knault, DMR Municipal Shellfish Management Program supervisor, said. He said the town has had “some form of management for 40 years or more.”

But while the town’s bounty is a matter of pride, it’s also a cause of concern. Some harvesters fear one of the town’s prime clam flats, Middle Bay, could soon become part of Harpswell – despite that town’s repeated assurance that Brunswick would continue to manage the flats if the town line is returned to a disputed historical border.

Dan Devereaux, Brunswick’s marine resource officer, said harvesters have put in long hours reseeding the town’s clam flats, especially Middle Bay. Devereaux said the mudflats off Thomas Point Beach are especially attractive to young clams, which propel themselves through the water with a tiny foot until they find a good place to land.

Harvesters collect young clams from Thomas Point and plant them elsewhere, like a gardener might transplant seeds. The hope is that areas that are not naturally rich in seed will become so, and Devereaux said it’s been working.

“Brunswick has one of the most aggressive clam management programs in the entire state,” he said. “I think you can correlate our management strategies to the output of production.”

Much of the reseeding is done by commercial harvesters. Ray Trombley, a harvester who sits on the town’s Marine Resources Committee, said shellfishermen must attend MRC meetings, and do shoreline clean-ups and reseedings, or other conservation work, to renew their licenses.

Devereaux also traced Brunswick’s bounty to its commercial license allocation program. He said the town conducts a clam survey every other year and bases the number of licenses on the clam population, as well as on areas that are closed due to pollution.

Not all towns base their commercial licenses on clam surveys and flat closures. Knault said many Downeast towns do not limit the number of commercial licenses available to resident harvesters.

“Opportunities to find employment Downeast are more limited,” he said. “(It’s) their choice to say, there’s nothing else to do, we want to make sure these guys have an opportunity to make some kind of money.”

While Knault acknowledged that Brunswick’s license allocation program and management strategies impacts clam landings, he said he believes clam habitat is the most important factor.

“They happen to be a real good clam-setting town,” he said of Brunswick. Clams also grow faster further south, he said, putting Mid-Coast towns like Brunswick at an advantage over towns like Lubec, which has the highest acreage of clam flats, but does not have huge landings.

Border dispute

But Devereaux said Brunswick could lose a little over 20 percent of productive mud flats to Harpswell if there is a border change. He estimated that Middle Bay yields approximately 200,000 pounds of clams worth about $4 million each year, not including the quahogs dug from that bay.

Trombley said the town’s harvesters have spent “many man hours” reseeding Middle Bay, and is concerned that Harpswell could change its mind about letting Brunswick manage the area.

“How many years am I going to be able to dig that area before they come back and say they want it for their harvesters?” he said.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net

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Brunswick Marine Resource Officer Dan Devereaux points out the current boundary between Brunswick and Harpswell, which runs through the center of Upper Middle Bay. Harpswell’s proposal would have the boundary run along the high water mark, where Devereaux is standing.

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