Clam re-seeding is latest chapter in 'cool story told by a clam digger'

By Beth A. Birmingham | Sep 05, 2019
Courtesy of: Gabby Hillyer Members of the Waldoboro Shellfish Committee, from left, Abden Simmons, Glen Melvin and Chuck Reed, roll back the seed bed net to be able to place baby clams under it.

Waldoboro — The Medomak River Taskforce has targeted pollution in clam flats, and is now in the process of a re-seeding project.

Members of the Waldoboro Shellfish Committee took seed or small clams -- mostly a half to one inch in length -- from an area in Sampson Cove, where the clams are actually too thick to grow, and moved them to a different area with plenty of room for them to flourish Sept. 3.

"The goal is to 'thin out' the clams in one area and 'thicken' them in another, hoping both areas will prosper," said Glen Melvin, co-chairman of the Waldoboro Shellfish Committee, Sept. 4.

"Because we took the clams from a polluted part of the cove, the new area will need to be closed for a designated amount of time for the clams to cleanse," he said.

Melvin said the group also created six seed beds located in the same cove, covered by special netting to protect them from predators. Town Manager Julie Keizer got the netting and made the nets, according to Melvin.

"We filled these beds full of clams of all different sizes in hopes they will just spawn, and never be harvested," he said.

Placement of the beds was determined through data collected by Gabby Hillyer, a University of Maine at Orono graduate student. Hillyer has been deploying drifters in the Medomak River in order to map tidal currents and pollution movement.

The project uses “bucket drifters” packed with scientific instruments that take the measure of the tides — research aimed at better understanding the dynamics of the Medomak River estuary’s ability to flush out harmful bacteria which, in the wake of rainstorms of more than an inch, close clam flats for a mandatory nine-day period.

Dr. Lauren Ross, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at UMO, has been deploying probes throughout the Medomak River to expand on the information gained by Hillyer's drifter study.

In the 1980s, there were nearly 6,000 clammers in the state; now there are 1,700, according to Melvin.

Although the number of clammers has decreased, the Waldoboro shellfish harvesters have taken the top rank for harvesting yield for two years, harvesting 910,903 pounds of clams that yielded $1,604,253 in 2017.

Melvin and the Medomak Project Taskforce received the Sen. George J. Mitchell award for "outstanding contribution by an external partner to sustainability research" in December 2017.

Melvin said, "This all started with clammers, then to three state agencies working together, to smoke-bombing streets, to $2,500-a-day dogs, to excluding pets from our landing, to out-of-state DNA testing, to dropping satellite tracking drifting devices, to the cleanest the Medomak River has been in over 25 years. I think this will show why we won the excellence award from the George Mitchell Center."

"Just a real cool story ... told by a clam digger," Melvin said.

The Medomak Project Taskforce is made up of a group of people and agencies determined to clean up the Medomak River.

The re-seeding project was funded by a Maine Shellfish Restoration and Resilience Grant the Waldoboro Shellfish Committee received last spring, along with a matching grant from the committee, so there was no impact on taxpayers.

(Courtesy of: Julie Horner Keizer)
(Courtesy of: Julie Horner Keizer)
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