With a cut in clamming licenses looming, Brunswick harvesters consider digging quahogs to save jobs

Mike Brown (left) and Gary Crouse load quahogs into a truck from their boat on Upper New Meadows Lake in June 2011.
Troy R. Bennett | Times Record
Mike Brown (left) and Gary Crouse load quahogs into a truck from their boat on Upper New Meadows Lake in June 2011.
Posted Dec. 09, 2013, at 4:37 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Brunswick-area shellfish harvesters are looking at better management of the large, hard-shelled clams known as quahogs as one way to offset what could be a “significant” reduction in the number of commercial softshell clamming licenses in town.

Largely due to the infestation of the predatory European green crab, which harvesters say has decimated the clam population, the town’s 57 commercial clamming licenses will likely be reduced in March, Marine Resources Officer Dan Devereaux said Monday.

But “we’re working very hard so we can find other ways to only reduce [licenses by] six or seven, or give them an option to [harvest] quahogs,” Devereaux said.

Among those options are managing a population of quahogs — large, hard-shelled clams that are more resistant to green crabs — found in Middle Bay and Maquoit Bay in Brunswick.

Devereaux hopes to hear Dec. 18 from the Brunswick Development Corporation, the quasi-governmental agency that aids the town’s economic development efforts, about approval of a grant request for $25,000 to develop a plan and then survey the quahogs.

Decades ago, harvesters depleted the once abundant quahog population in the two bays, but in 2010, the large clams began reappearing. That summer, it was not uncommon to see 30-40 boats of fishermen, rakes in hand, hauling out large quantities of quahogs, according to Devereaux. Today, only about four people still harvest the hard-shell clams during spring, summer and fall.

“The population has been knocked back drastically because of that initial influx of commercial fishermen, but now it’s at a manageable population,” Devereaux said.

With quahogs better able to resist the predation of green crabs due to thicker shells and a different habitat — living away from shore, while the crabs overnight on the banks — more careful management of the population could provide jobs for commercial clammers who in March could be out of work should licenses be reduced — likely “significantly,” Devereaux said.

“Our hands have been forced,” he said. “If we want to save jobs, we have to look at other resources we can manage.”

Should the BDC grant the funding, the town would spend $15,000 for a scientist to develop a model for a survey that can be used to determine the area’s quahog population; and $10,000 to deploy marine technicians to conduct that survey.

Devereaux said he’d like to get the survey underway as quickly as possible, in order to know how significant a resource the quahog beds could be for out-of-work clammers.

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