Department of Marine Resources Grants Support Maine’s Valuable Softshell Clam Resource

The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has awarded five grants for projects that will improve management and conservation of the state’s valuable softshell clam resource.

The total available for the work is $20,000, which comes from the Department’s Coastal Fisheries, Research Management and Opportunity Fund. A cap of $5,000 was established for each award.

This mini-grant program builds on work done through the Maine Shellfish Restoration and Resilience Project, a similar program established through the Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, the DMR Shellfish Advisory Council, and the University of Maine.

Each awardee will be responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of the project, for submitting a final report on the project to DMR, and for sharing the results of the funded projects with the other industry stakeholders.

“This program will kickstart innovative solutions to many of the challenges facing Maine’s softshell clam industry, from pollution to predation,” said Meredith White, Supervisor of DMR’s Nearshore Marine Resources Program. “The softshell clam fishery is consistently one of Maine’s most valuable, earning harvesters more than $16 million in 2022.  But the resource is under significant pressure, which is reflected in a decline in landings over the past decade. It is vital that we support efforts to protect and sustain this important resource and the economic opportunity it provides,” said White.

Two projects will address the impact of dog feces on softshell clam harvest areas. Dog waste contains bacteria that can transmit disease to humans and result in harvest area closures that reduce economic opportunity for shellfish harvesters.

The Thomaston Conservation Commission has received $3,825 to support installation of 12 dog waste stations around the town and to create signage that will educate residents and visitors about proper disposal of pet waste. Water testing conducted by the Georges River Regional Shellfish Program has shown that dog feces has impacted the quality of waterways that flow into the St. George River which includes significant shellfish habitat.

The Bristol Shellfish Committee will also use the $3,761 in DMR funding to install ten dog waste stations at nearby coastal locations. The Committee will conduct outreach to educate the public about the impacts of dog waste on shellfish harvesting and will test water quality to determine the effectiveness of the campaign.

Two other projects will support improved seeding of clam flats.

The Georges River Regional Shellfish Committee will use $5,000 to address declining softshell clam populations by seeding four flats using a method called “berming.” Berming is the practice of making mounds in the mud that slow tidal and wind currents, which creates a more favorable habitat for recently settled clams.

The Frenchman Bay Regional Shellfish Committee will use $3,300 to place large spawner softshell clams in cages located in Racoon Cove in Lamoine to repopulate the cove with seed clams.

Another project will address the impact of green crab predation.

The Westport Island Shellfish Committee will use $3,800 to address an increasing green crab population that has impacted the softshell clam population locally and coastwide. Green crabs are a non-native species that prey on softshell clams. The Committee will use the funds to expand its green crab trapping program, focusing on a local cove that has been seeded with softshell clams and quahogs.

“All of these projects will not only address specific problems that face softshell clam resources in coastal communities that rely on this fishery, but they will result in a body of research that can be accessed and used by all stakeholders of this valuable resource,” said White.