2018 Fishermen's Forum

Success of The Medomak Project continues

Waldoboro ranked tops in clam harvest
By Beth A. Birmingham | Mar 01, 2018
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Glen Melvin, co-chairman of the Waldoboro Shellfish Committee and leader of The Medomak Project, tells how the project was able to open more than 300 acres of closed clam flats on the Medomak River during a presentation March 1 at the 2018 Fishermen's Forum.

Rockport — Attendees at one of the opening presentations of the 2018 Fishermen's Forum heard how the Medomak River Taskforce has been able to consistently conquer pollution in its valuable clam flats.

Glen Melvin, co-chairman of the Waldoboro Shellfish Committee and leader of The Medomak Project, led off the discussion with a question a fellow clammer asked him in 2012: "Are we going to be doing this five years from now?"

The question came following several years of rough times when the Medomak River was closed because of pollution more often than it was open.

"I thought, 'That's not funny,'" Melvin said. "I thought to myself this could be the grand finale of clamming."

Melvin said that's when he decided he had to do something, but he was told it couldn't be a one-man show ... he would need the town to back him.

After he got the town, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Marine Resources, the Department of Agriculture and others involved, the Medomak River Taskforce formed and began what is referred to as The Medomak Project.

Since then, tests and studies -- from smoke-bombing the town's sewer system to hiring pollution-sniffing dogs -- have unveiled numerous potential sources of contamination.

Through DNA testing at the University of New Hampshire, sponsored by Sea Grant, a program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it was discovered that 70 percent of the pollution was from human waste.

Other measures have included getting the town to ban all pets at the Pine Street Landing, as well as at a town park near Hannaford. The Waldoboro Shellfish Committee also installed and pays for port-a-potties at the landing.

And in the past year, more than 300 acres of closed clam flats along the Medomak River have been reopened. In fact, at a meeting later that evening, the DMR announced it will reopen another 59 acres of clam flats, thanks to water quality improvements.

"The river is the cleanest it's been in 25 years," Melvin said.

Following Melvin's presentation, Gabrielle Hillyer, a graduate student from University of Maine, spoke on her involvement with The Medomak Project.

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 measure the tides — research aimed at better understanding the dynamics of the Medomak River estuary’s ability to flush out harmful bacteria that, in the wake of rainstorms of more than an inch, close clam flats for a mandatory nine-day period.

The floating devices can be monitored remotely to help map out how long it takes for them to leave an area.

This information is expected have a significant impact on the clamming industry, as it could affect how long the flats remain closed. The current closure time of nine days is based on the length of time it takes for clams to filter out bacteria.

The drifters measure the water's temperature, salinity, light intensity, pH and dissolved organic carbon, and the research is helping better explain the currents of the Medomak and also how bacteria travel. This has a direct impact not only on the health of the river, but also on the men and women who make their living from the Medomak, and those who live and play there.

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 took the top rank for harvesting yield in 2017, according to information released March 1 by DMR.

Waldoboro clammers harvested 910,903 pounds of clams, yielding $1,604,253. In second place was Brunswick, with 697,830 pounds and $1,365,184 in income. Deer Isle was third, with 475,967 pounds at $837,999. St. George clammers placed sixth, harvesting 277,476 pounds at $474,905.

"I was told by many, the state uses Waldoboro as a shellfish harvest model, as we are well represented, use no taxpayer money, increase the water quality of our river, and lead the state in product yield," Melvin said. "Not bad for a bunch of clam diggers."

It should be noted as well that Melvin and the Medomak Project Taskforce received the Sen. George J. Mitchell award for "outstanding contribution by an external partner to sustainability research" back in December 2017.

The Fishermen's Forum runs through Saturday, March 3, at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Medomak River Project
(Video by: Beth A. Birmingham/Amber Abbotoni)
Gabrielle Hillyer, a graduate student from University of Maine, speaks on her project of deploying drifters in the Medomak River in order to map tidal currents and pollution movement. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
The process guiding the drifter project that is being used to help clean up the Medomak River. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Waldoboro Town Manager Julie Keizer, standing, praises Glen Melvin, Gabby Hillyer and all involved with The Medomak Project for their successes during a presentation at the Fishermen's Forum March 1. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
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