Harpswell hopes to join study of green crab infestation

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HARPSWELL — The town wants to take part in a statewide pilot study officials hope will collect data on how to fight the invasive green crab and other marine predators.

The Board of Selectmen on May 1 approved an application to the Maine Department of Marine Resources to take part in the project. Selectmen are also considering two bids for a year-long contract to develop and implement a marine resources management program for the town. 

The statewide study was authorized in a bill written specifically to address the green crab issue. At least four municipalities are expected to take part in the study.

The DMR will evaluate the data collected by the studies, and issue a report on green crab control methods to the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee next January, according to DMR spokesperson Jeff Nichols.

According to its application, Harpswell plans to seal off eight acres on Strawberry Creek to clam and worm harvesting during the 2014 season and place 12 to 15 green crab traps in the area, as well as install crab fencing across the mouth of the cove. 

The intent of the study is three-fold, according to the project objectives submitted to DMR.

First, the town wants to eradicate green crabs from the target area and prevent more infestation. 

In addition, town officials want to see if letting the mud flats rest for the six-month duration of the study will lead to a population rebound for all sizes of clams.

They also want to use weekly readings to determine if acidity levels of the water differ when the flats are not being harvested.

Harpswell already has most of the equipment it needs, including traps and a pH monitor, but will have to use funds from the town’s marine resources budget to buy bait for study. 

The project’s location may also be reconsidered if the project gets DMR approval. 

At the meeting, Marine Resources Committee Chairman David Wilson suggested taking a second look in the northern and southern ends of Strawberry Creek to determine which area has a clam population that would make the study worthwhile.

“If there’s nothing in there to begin with, it probably isn’t the best place to conduct the study,” he told selectmen.

Enabled by warming ocean waters, the green crab population on Maine’s coast has exploded in recent years, devastating shellfish populations and aquatic plants in the intertidal zone. Juvenile soft shell clams have been hit especially hard by the invading predators.

Casco Bay towns like Freeport and Brunswick have launched municipal research and eradication efforts against green crabs. State efforts have also been boosted, including a 12-member green crab task force established by Gov. Paul LePage. The group is expected to release results in September.

The town is also moving forward with a marine resources management plan. A selection group made up of Selectmen Elinor Multer, Richard Daniel and Kevin Johnson, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane, and Wilson interviewed two contractors who submitted proposals on Tuesday. 

The contractor will be expected to provide between 25 and 40 hours a month to the town and complete monthly reports on progress completed in six project areas.

Independent consultant Monique Coombs and Brunswick-based Resource Access International both bid on the project. According to Eiane, Coombs’ submitted a bid for $50 per hour plus expenses, while RAI, represented by Darcie Couture, bid $45 an hour.

The resource plan calls for the contractor to administer a survey of all the town’s clam flats to collect information on shellfish resources, including size, growth rate, available crop, yield estimates and identification of problems like pollution and invasive species. 

The contractor is also responsible for developing strategies to address challenges like green crabs, develop partnerships with other communities and regional stakeholders, manage activities like water sampling and clam flat surveys, as well as seek out and write grants for funding. 

According to Eiane, selectmen are expected to vote on a contractor at their meeting Thursday, May 15.

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