May 28, 2013

In Maine, green crabs threaten clamming

Freeport funds study as clammers take the offensive.

By Matt Byrne
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Chad Coffin, president of the Maine Clammers Association, sorts through a trap off the coast of Freeport Friday, looking for green crabs. He believes the proliferation of these crabs could have a “dire” impact on soft-shell clams.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Clammers enter and exit S&S Seafood in Freeport. Many are volunteering to help in a study funded by the Town of Freeport about invasive green crabs.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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The association lost its tax-exempt status this year after failing to file paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service for three consecutive years, said Nora Healy, a partner at the Verrill Dana law firm in Portland and a member of the Freeport Shellfish Commission.

She said a request has been made to reapply for nonprofit status.

Coffin said the loss of the tax exemption won't hamper his effort to spread the word about the crab problem.

Denis-Marc Nault, a municipal shellfish management supervisor, said the state Department of Marine Resources has limited ability to manage the predation, but it has worked to grant permits for trapping crabs to a half-dozens coastal towns, up from one or two permits in years past.

"It's never been a concerted, long, hard effort," said Nault. "We have no money in our budget, and that's not really our job, to do a predator control program."

Nault said the crabs are among many factors that influence shellfish populations. Milky ribbon worms, moon snails and shellfish blood disease also reduce the productivity of clam flats, he said.

According to scientists who study the Gulf of Maine, climate change is at the root of many issues along the coast.

Four of the eight wettest years in the last 115 years have been recorded since 2005, and that has pushed more fresh water into the Gulf of Maine, said William Balch, a senior research scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay.

Freshwater runoff reduces salinity and introduces solid materials that block sunlight, reducing the tiny phytoplankton that are the base of nutrients for virtually all sea life.

"If you shut off the bottom of the marine food web for four years straight, that will undoubtedly have an impact," Balch said.

A rise in ocean surface temperatures of about .018 degrees Celsius a year from 1977 to 2010 has particularly suited green crabs, which thrive in warmer temperatures that more closely mirror conditions in their native Europe.

No scientific explanations change the reality for clammers, who may soon see a smaller harvest if crabs continue to destroy next year's stock.

At best, a bright future may mean a perpetual fight again the shifting forces of nature.

To Coffin, who said he will continue to clam and educate others how to keep the shellfish population healthy, the task is clear: "We have a lot more crabs to kill."


This story was updated at 11:30 a.m. May 28 to correct the spelling of the Harraseeket River.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at


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Additional Photos

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A green crab

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Chad Coffin holds handfuls of green crabs. He hopes to revitalize the Maine Clammers Association. “We have a lot more crabs to kill,” he says.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer


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