What’s Happening on the Clam Flats?

On Sunday, June 6, fifty people came down to the clam flat at the top of Prospect Harbor to learn more about what is going on, other than clam harvesting, when they see a group of people out on a clam flat with nets, buckets, boxes, and other gear. People from the Prospect Harbor neighborhood were joined by folks from elsewhere in Gouldsboro as well as people who drove from Sullivan, Franklin, and other communities. They learned that soft shell clams are under increasing predatory pressure from green crabs who are now able to survive the winters in greater numbers because winters have been getting warmer. They also learned that Gouldsboro, like some other communities, uses nets that the shellfish committee puts over “clam seed” (small, 1-year old clams that the town puts out on the flats) to protect young clams from the crabs. The tide was out that afternoon, which meant that visitors could have a look at the nets and at the clam holes underneath the nets that the clams use when they extend their siphons up into the water for feeding.

The photo at the top of this post shows shellfish committee members Wayne Bishko and David Deniger placing a recruitment box into the mud and securing it with stakes that they are driving into the mud next to the box. The recruitment box — sometimes called a “Beal Box” after Dr. Brian Beal of the Downeast Institute, who came up with the design — is a small (1 x 2 feet by about 2 inches high) wooden box with tough plastic screen material on each face. They are placed on the flats in the spring when clams are spawning. The idea is that, as newly hatched clams settle out of the water column, some will end up in the box where they will grow during the summer. (Very young clams can easily fit through the screening.) By placing recruitment boxes in different bays and coves, the town is able to gather data about where new clam recruitment is most plentiful and about clam growth rate at different locations.

The guests heard from the core team including Sarah Hooper, Education Specialist at Schoodic Institute; Mike Pinkham, the local shellfish warden, and Bill Zoellick, former Research Education Director at Schoodic Institute about the progress and purpose of the project. Some other specialists and collaborators (the all-stars of shellfish work) also came along to share their knowledge. These folks included Heid Leighton, the area biologist from the Department of Marine Resources (DMR); Kyle Pepperman and Brian Beal from Down East Institute, a shellfish hatchery on Great Wass Island; and several local clammers, bringing hands on expertise and deep knowledge of the mudflats and the challenges they face.

We walked the community around the mudflats discussing the ecosystem–Heidi showed the difference between male and female green crabs, the predator of the major clam species in the area. We also discussed the details of the project: how it will be done, who will do it, the impacts to the local area, and how everyone can work together to make it a project for and by them. 

— Bill Zoellick and Sophie Chivers (Intern, Schoodic Institute)

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