Terry Twomey has been clamming in Scarborough since he was 10 years old. But as the state shuts down more and more of the clam flats, Twomey, now 59, worries he won’t be able to do it much longer.

“It doesn’t take much to shut down areas, but it takes a lot to reopen them,” he said.

The latest blow to Scarborough clammers was the closing of the flats along the Nonesuch River over the past year – once one of the prime areas to dig. According to Dave Corbeau, the town’s marine resource officer, about a third of the flats in Scarborough have been closed down. And now, Scarborough wants its own curbs on clamming.

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, the Scarborough Town Council held a public hearing on an amendment to the shellfish conservation ordinance that would put a ban on digging clams at night.

“It’s a conservation measure to save the area,” Corbeau said.

Scarborough has more than 350 registered clammers, including recreational and commercial clammers. Corbeau said another option would be to reduce the number of licenses allotted by the town, but the shellfish committee decided on recommending the ban instead – an amendment that would be reviewed by the committee yearly.

According to Laura Livingston, water quality specialist for the Maine Department of Marine Rescources, random samples taken from the Nonesuch, Millbrook and Libby rivers in Scarborough do not meet national standards for water quality, which means that shellfish dug from their flats pose a public health risk.

She said the source of the pollution has not yet been determined and it is unknown when the water quality will change. She said the closing of the Nonesuch River flats was significant for the shellfish industry, but when it comes to clam flat closures, Scarborough’s situation is not unique.

“This is happening statewide,” she said. “It’s had an impact everywhere.”

As the state works to determine where the pollution is coming from and what to do about it, minor measures, like the night digging ban in Scarborough, are being taken to help preserve what’s left.

Though Twomey is one of the few clammers who still occasionally digs at night, he is in favor of the ban.

“Night digging is kind of peaceful. You’re out there all by yourself,” he said.

Twomey said it’s “quite a sight” watching the Downeaster train coming up from Boston pass through town at 2 in the morning or getting out to the flats at 3 and digging until daylight. But giving that up in order to save the flats, he said, is well worth it.

“I’ve been getting enough clams during the day,” Twomey said. “Even if I do miss it, it’s good for everybody.”

According to Bob Ferron, former shellfish committee chairman, peace, quiet and cool temperatures aren’t the only attractions to night digging – it’s also prime time for poaching. Ferron said because enforcement is minimal at night, it’s hard to tell whether clammers are digging on closed areas. With the ban, however, any headlamp spotted shining on the flats after dusk can be traced to a culpable clammer.

“There’s a lot of poachers out there,” he said.

Ferron fears that because poachers don’t follow any of the regulations for clam digging, they could sell bad clams and ruin Scarborough’s reputation.

“If you’re poaching clams you just throw them in the back of your truck,” he said. “Someone’s going to get sick, and they’re going to close the whole bay down.

Though Ferron and Twomey hope the ban will help with the poachers, it won’t be the end of obstacles clammers are facing.

Green crabs infest the flats at night, snatching up clams while the diggers are sleeping. Ferron said the few times this summer that a group of about 20 clammers gathered at night to collect crabs, they were able to fill half of a pickup truck bed with the creatures.

And those are the clammers who get along. Due to the decrease in flats to dig on, competition has risen, bringing an increase in in-fighting. Tires have been slashed. Outboards have been broken. Swear words have been scrawled across the hoods of trucks.

“We’re under the gun,” Twomey said.

And according to Ferron, it could get worse. More flats could close at any time.

“It’s a never-ending battle,” he said.

A second reading on the proposed Scarborough ordinance is scheduled for Oct. 17, when it could also be approved by the town council.

Shell shocked – Clammers face more Scarborough curbsShell shocked – Clammers face more Scarborough curbs


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