HANCOCK, Maine — The influx of shellfish harvesters from other parts of Maine have some residents and others from neighboring towns seeing red over how it is affecting clam flats in the upper reaches of Frenchman Bay.
Because a red tide outbreak has forced the closure of most bivalve shellfish harvesting areas throughout the state, some diggers farther south and from Washington County have been coming to Hancock County to ply their trade. The result, according to about 30 people who gathered Tuesday afternoon at the town office, is that there are too many harvesters crowding into too small an area.
“We can’t go to Harrington, we can’t go [south],” said Winterport resident Joe Porada, who owns property in Hancock and digs locally for clams. “Our clams are going to be gone by the time this red tide event is over.”
What’s worse, Porada added, is that diggers from Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan and Trenton will not be able to go dig clams elsewhere after the red tide outbreak passes. Most other towns have ordinances that restrict shellfish harvesting to residents but these six Hancock County towns do not, he said. Because the six towns do not have local shellfish ordinances, anyone with a state license is allowed to dig for clams or mussels on local tidal flats.
“When they leave, our clams are gone and we have no place to go,” Porada said.
“[Area flats are] being raked by everyone from Portland to Calais,” Steve Beathem, an Ellsworth city councilor and clam buyer for Maine Shellfish Co., told the group. “What they are doing is raking your future. You guys need to take action.”
The solution may be to form a multitown shellfish harvesting zone similar to one centered on the St. George River in Knox County, according to Denis-Marc Nault, scientist for the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ shellfish management program.
Nault, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the towns of Cushing, Thomaston, St. George, South Thomaston and Warren have formed the St. George River Association, which has one supervisory board that controls access to all clam flats in those towns.
Among the requirements the state has for towns that adopt shellfish harvesting ordinances is that they must include conservation measures and they must enforce their ordinance, which means hiring someone to make sure local rules are being followed, according to Nault.
Interested towns do not have to form shellfish associations exactly like the one in Knox County, he said, but by banding together they can pool their resources to hire someone to enforce local shellfish harvesting laws, he said.
Nault said he encourages shellfish harvesters and towns to adopt ordinances to manage their clam flats. He said that he and his small staff may know about the biology of bivalves, but it is the diggers who know the most about their digging areas.
“Local control, I feel, on a shellfish resource is best,” Nault said. “We provide the science. They have that local knowledge.”
Nault said clams harvested in the six Hancock County towns have a total average annual value of nearly $374,000, which is similar to the annual value of clams dug in towns with high tidal flat acreage such as Scarborough and Lubec.
He said he would try to help advise diggers in the six Hancock County towns on how their towns can adopt local restrictions and manage their harvesting areas, perhaps as a group.
Charles Brown, a digger from Trenton, said Tuesday outside the Hancock town office that he and his fellow harvesters from the area plan to approach officials in each town to get support for adopting local restrictions of some sort.
Protecting clam flats is not just good for harvesters, he said, it also is good for businesses where harvesters spend their money.
“Nothing like this ever happens overnight,” Brown said. “We know we’re not going to close down [area flats to outside diggers] this year, but next year we can.”