The Casco Bay Regional Shellfish Working Group is developing a database to compile resources from and for local shellfish communities. Contributed / Bridie McGreavy

CASCO BAY — Casco Bay Regional Shellfish Working Group is building a database to make it easier for Casco Bay’s shellfish industry to access data and help it adapt to environmental change.

The database will give communities a wider context for the reality of the shellfish industry in the overarching Casco Bay region.

According to a statement from the working group: “The shellfish database will equip local shellfish committees, harvesters, and others in the shellfish community with the data they need to handle these issues in one accessible, up-to-date online resource. For example, shellfish committees could more easily visualize landings data and historical survey data from other towns to inform their conservation goals, such as species diversification.”

A January 2020 meeting of Casco Bay Regional Shellfish Working Group in Yarmouth. Contributed / Jessica Joyce

In order to build the database, the group has launched an online survey.

The 13 towns in the working group invited to participate in the survey include Brunswick, Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Freeport, Harpswell, Scarborough, West Bath and Yarmouth.

Group founder Jessica Joyce said although fisheries are typically managed by one or more governmental agencies, shellfish are unique in that they are one of few species co-managed by municipal and state governments.

According to Joyce, towns will typically have a local shellfish conservation committee, a shellfish ordinance and a warden and distribute commercial and recreational licenses, as well as develop a budget for conservation work and things of that nature. The state is responsible for much of the classifying and water sampling to make sure it’s safe to harvest and eat shellfish.

“What I found when I started participating in some of the state-level forums including the Shellfish Advisory Council is that all the towns are dealing with similar issues,” Joyce said, including ocean acidification and predators such as green crabs and milky ribbon worms. “I realized, if we all have similar issues, why not work together to try and address them?”

The working group has fostered a network to share information and tools, but outside of a couple of annual meetings there was no easy way to access a culmination of these resources. 

“Ideally, this database and the working group and other groups like that throughout Maine will provide an opportunity for these shellfish committees to up their game and really adapt,” Joyce said. 

What I’ve tried to stress the most as I’ve been working on this is the idea of best practices,” Nate Orff, president of the Scarborough Shellfish Committee and a commercial fisherman, said. “Because if someone is doing something more efficient than you, why aren’t you doing what they’re doing? Idea sharing is so huge and I think that’s what this database will really help to do. It’s going to document a lot of things into one place that I don’t think has been compiled in that way before.”

According to Joyce, the survey comprises 30 questions and takes around 15 minutes to complete.

The survey, which will run through Feb. 28, is now being offered at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ShellfishDatabaseSurveyonline.

Community members may also schedule a telephone survey, or request a representative to conduct the survey at their local shellfish/marine resource committee meeting.

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