Harpswell, Brunswick clammers plan historic seeding project

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HARPSWELL — Clammers in Harpswell and Brunswick are planning a massive seeding effort to boost the stock of soft-shell clams in rich harvesting areas.

The Harpswell Marine Resources Committee agreed to the plan at its Aug. 26 meeting, committing volunteers and funding to help spread 250,000 seed clams in Long Reach, the narrows near Princess Point and in the New Meadows River.

The reseeding effort is believed to be the largest attempted jointly by two towns in the state, according to Brunswick Marine Resource Officer Dan Devereaux. It offers an opportunity to rebuild a resource that provides the livelihood for dozens of families in both towns. 

It is a unique example of cooperation between communities with a history of tension and sometimes outright hostility over harvesting territory and town boundaries, Devereaux noted.

“The hope is to start working together collaboratively as we recognize that the actions of bordering towns are more and more critical in the restoration of productive mudflats,” Devereaux said in an email. “Some will like it, some won’t, but overall more collaboration between bordering towns helps improve the vitality and sustainability of the industry for all.”

Ordinarily, Brunswick annually reseeds sparse clam flats by moving stock from other areas in town. But in part because of predation by European green crabs, surveys last autumn showed an absence of young clams, or spat, in typically productive areas. 

That prompted the town to order 1 million seed clams from a Downeast hatchery, as a emergency measure, Devereaux said. 

Surveys this spring and summer, however, showed healthier populations of young clams than earlier, leaving Brunswick with a huge order of seed, more than it could use, especially if the number of green crabs found in clam flats remains low, he said. 

By sharing the first order of 500,000 young clams with Harpswell, seed will be distributed throughout boundary waters, hopefully spawning new clams in both areas in the future, Devereaux said.

The towns plan to each commit half of their share, 250,000 total, to the border areas. The remainder will go to other mudflats within each town’s territory.

Pulling together the operation promises to be a complicated endeavor, involving multiple teams of two to three volunteers moving into different zones to plant seed, in some cases requiring the use of an air boat.

“It has to be very time coordinated because it’s time critical,” Devereaux told committee members at the meeting, adding that the clams needed to be planted almost immediately to keep them from dying.

Harpswell’s marine resources committee agreed that partnering with Brunswick could help restore some of the ground they have lost over the past few years.

It may cost as much as $4,000 for Harpswell’s share of the seed. The committee will also have to get enough volunteers to put out the young clams, one 5,000-count bag at a time, and provide protective netting for newly seeded areas.

Committee Chairman David Wilson said he’d prefer to see the area of the narrows, between Buttermilk and Doughty coves and Long Reach, remain mostly closed to harvesting, allowing the fast-moving water to spread clam spawn into nearby harvesting areas.

“We’re going to use the narrows like a fan,” he said in an interview following the meeting.

Committee member Wendell Cressey agreed that with the intense pressures being put on the clamming industry from environmental factors like pollution, green crabs, and warming waters, it is time to start working for solutions to common problems.

“If we don’t start doing something soon,” Cressey said, “clammers aren’t going to exist.”

The joint seeding effort is planned for the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 6.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.

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