BRUNSWICK — After considering the livelihoods of local clam harvesters and the need to conserve a shrinking softshell clam population, the Marine Resources Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to make the smallest reduction possible in the number of commercial shellfish harvesting licenses available this year.
The committee also voted to close the town’s coastal waters to softshell and quahog clam harvesting every weekend until June, and will consider reopening the waters to weekend harvesting in May.
Both measures were in reaction to a severe decline in the town’s softshell clam population, which has been caused by several factors, but most notably by the growing menace of the invasive green crab. The invasive species will be the target of a $39,000 trapping project expected to begin in March.
Commercial harvesting licenses were reduced by 12 percent, from 57 to 50, the smallest possible reduction allowed by the town.
The recommended reduction was based on the town’s annual population survey of softshell clams, which was found to be at its lowest in the past 20 years.
The most recent population survey found just over 17,000 bushels of softshell clams within Brunswick’s coastal waters, nearly half the amount of last year’s nearly 30,000 bushels, which was higher than in the 15 previous years.
The town’s Marine Patrol Division is planning to begin a project in April that will develop a system for surveying the town’s population of quahog clams.
The $15,000 project could allow the town to incorporate the quahog clam population into the annual calculation of commercial shellfish licenses, meaning it could potentially prevent greater license reductions in the future.
Despite the license reduction, Marine Resource Officer Dan Devereaux said he expects the impact will be minimal on clam harvesters who actively use their licenses and follow the town’s conservation requirements.
Devereaux said that’s partly because two clam harvesters are expected to have their licenses revoked because they haven’t complied with the town’s conservation requirements. He said there are also two letters of intent from clam harvesters seeking bushel licenses, which would free up one commercial shellfish license.
Lastly, Devereaux said, he expects some clam harvesters who don’t harvest as much will surrender their licenses willingly in order to open up licenses for those who rely on clam harvesting to support their livelihoods.