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  • Writer's pictureBen Martens

It's Not All Lobsters in Maine - Shellfish Day at the 2017 Fishermen's Forum

The Maine Fishermen’s Forum starts out the three-day show on Thursday with an entire day dedicated to shellfish. This year I had the privilege of not only attending shellfish day, but also presenting.

The day kicked off with a biology block. The Downeast Institute presented on clam recruitment and reported on some of their research in Freeport that’s occurred over the past year. My presentation was during this biology block, though, let’s be honest, I’m not a biologist. I introduced myself to the shellfish community and announced that I am gleaning information from various communities about the milky ribbon worm infestation happening along the coast. This presentation was one of the first steps to a project that will last throughout the year.

Milky ribbon worms are a native species but over the last 5-or so years, many communities have seen the population of these nasty worms outnumber the soft-shell clams and quahogs in the flats. This is scary for harvesters because the worms prey on the clams and have been known to completely decimate flats in parts of Canada. The cause of this increase is unknown but many harvesters and stakeholders agree that ocean acidification and warming waters are altering the entire eco-system and basically, weird things are happening. In my presentation I stated, “It’s easy to point to one thing and say if we fix this then everything will be OK but that’s just not realistic. I think this issue, and others like ocean acidification, warming waters, green crabs, and other predators, need to be examined as a part of a larger ecosystem.”

The legislation and policy block happened next. In this block the question regarding who owns the intertidal was discussed as well as “modernizing” community shellfish programs and changing the clam size minimums. This last part got rather contentions because most harvesters do not believe we should decrease the clam size minimum. (It is currently 2 inches and it is suggested it be changed to 1.5 inches.) MCFA is with the harvesters on this one, unsurprisingly. The reason put forth for changing the size is that this will protect the clams from predation, in other words, if we get them when they are smaller than the worms and crabs won’t get them. The evidence that milky ribbon worms prefer small clams is insignificant and the impact to the industry of decreasing the size would be somewhat disastrous because no other states have a size limit that small. Meaning, we would have nowhere to sell those smaller clams and they would need to be absorbed in Maine markets, which, is not guaranteed. (This bill is in a public hearing that will take place on Monday, March 13.)

In the afternoon harvesters and stakeholders were able to hear from shellfish wardens and hear from the area biologists.

Overall, it was an interesting and informative experience. I can’t help but wonder if it might be beneficial to integrate shellfish day into the forum more wholly? Needless to say, I’m already looking forward to next year’s forum and (hopefully) finding some relief to the ribbon worm problem plaguing Maine’s flats.

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