BRUNSWICK — Memo to green crabs: Brunswick is coming for you.
The invasive crab species that has dealt a destructive blow to softshell clams, eelgrass and other marine features of Maine’s coast will be the subject of a large removal project conducted by the the town next year.
Using a nearly $39,000 planning grant from the state, the town will start the year-long fencing and trapping project in February or March, in an effort to reduce green crab populations in Buttermilk and Woodward coves.
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry awarded the grant last week. It was made possible by a federal coastal management award from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
The project is also being funded by smaller grants from the New Meadows River Watershed Group and the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership.
Students from Brunswick High School’s Office of Service Learning and Outreach, and Darcie Couture, lead scientist at Resource Access International, will assist with the project.
Marine Resource Officer Dan Devereaux said the project will help the town determine how to mitigate green crabs in other intertidal areas, where the population of softshell clams has dramatically dropped in the past two years.
“We’re hoping by the end of the project we will have essentially removed enough crabs that it’s below that critical point,” Devereaux said. “… We think we’ve got a pretty good possibility that it can restore some of the habitat.”
The low number of harvestable softshell clams has led the town’s Marine Resources Committee to consider cutting the number of clam harvesting licenses.
The committee will likely make a decision to cut some licenses in February, Devereaux said, which could hurt the livelihood of some clam harvesters.
But another initiative by the town could provide some hope.
In order to offset any negative impact, the town’s Marine Resources division is seeking a $15,000 grant from the Brunswick Development Corp. to develop a system for managing and surveying an apparently emerging population of quahog clams.
Devereaux said if the town can determine a system for managing quahog clams, some clam harvesters wouldn’t have to lose their licenses.
Instead, they would switch to harvesting quahog clams.
“There will be some hard decisions to be made because its people’s livelihoods and jobs,” he said. “But the quahog resource is something I think we can nurture and grow like they do down in Cape Cod.”
If BDC approves the grant, Devereaux said, the new management system could lead the town to draft a new ordinance for managing quahog clams.
From there, it could mean a better future for harvesters.
“It’ll have an economic benefit because it will put people back to work if they lose their license clamming,” he said. “One of my suggestions to the Marine Resources Committee will be this: if it’s going to cost you 10 or 20 licenses, let’s allow a certain amount of those people to go to work harvesting quahogs.”