During a recent program at the Scarborough Public Library Dr. Brian Beal, director of research at the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research & Education, discussed the negative impact climate change is having on the soft-shell clam, a cash crop for many along the coast of southern Maine and in Scarborough in particular.

Beal, who is also a professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias, has been working for the past several years on finding solutions to enhancing the soft-shell clam population and ensuring the shellfish’s sustainability into the future.

Many say warming ocean waters have led to an increase in the number of both native and invasive predators that have impacted the quality and availability of the valuable soft-shell clam all up and down Casco Bay. With both air and ocean temperatures predicted to continue to rise, Beal and others with the Downeast Institute have been conducting extensive field research in the intertidal habitat of Casco Bay, with a focus on Freeport.

The goal of the research is to identify remediation techniques to restore the clams. The primary goal of the talk Beal gave at the Scarborough library on Aug. 17 was to review the science behind his experiments and to discuss the key results.

Beal is the volunteer director of research at the Downeast Institute and has taught courses in marine biology and ecology at the University of Maine at Machias for the past 31 years. In addition, Beal also teaches courses on applied statistics and experimental design.

“My workload is half-time teaching, half-time research,” he said this week. “I conduct applied research on soft-shell clams and other commercially important shellfish.”


Beal lives in Machiasport with is wife, Ruth. They have two grown children and share their household with a black Lab,named Zeke, and a cat named Foxy. A native Mainer, Beal was born in Machias in 1957.

This week he spoke with the Current about his work, particularly as it relates to the soft-shell clam.

Q: How did you get into researching clam populations?

A: I became interested in soft-shell clam research after having spent time with my grandfather clamming as a child and throughout high school and into college, which I did to earn money to pay for college tuition. I took courses in marine biology and ecology at the University of Maine at Machias as an undergraduate, and this piqued my interest and curiosity to learn more about the ecology and natural history of clams.

Q: What is the significance of studying clams in terms of climate change?

A: The significance of studying soft-shell clam biology and ecology is to learn more about what limits clam populations so that I can help clammers and communities to cope with these factors.


In terms of impact from climate change, what the research is suggesting is that as ocean temperatures become increasingly warmer, clams will encounter a more diverse predator threat. Therefore, I am investigating ways for communities, clammers, and potentially clam farmers to adapt to these changes in the marine ecosystem.

Q: What did you talk about, specifically, during your presentation in Scarborough?

A: I discussed remediation techniques to restore soft-shell clam populations and focused on three areas of research: green crab populations and the effect of these crabs on clam populations; our large-scale clam enhancement studies in Freeport; our experimental studies going on in the Harraseeket River. The whole goal of my research is to better understand variability in wild clam recruitment to the flats and to learn how to increase clam populations so that clammers can make a better living.

Dr. Brian Beal, forefront, director of research at the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research & Education, on the clam flats in Freeport.

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