Resource management is a tricky thing. That’s especially true in the marine environment where things are so interconnected. Nutrients literally float from one area to the next and the larvae of spawning sea creatures similarly drift from place to place. Marine species do not abide by borders but are instead are a part of a larger ecosystem where things literally flow from one location to another.

For this reason, there are few marine species that are managed at a municipal level. Some, like lobster, are managed by the state – by Maine’s Department of Marine Resources. The DMR has jurisdiction over subtidal waters (those below mean low water) throughout the state. Others, like stripers, are managed by interstate groups like the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council. And others, like cod and haddock, are managed regionally by bodies like the New England Fisheries Management Council. They have jurisdiction over waters beyond three miles from shore classified as federal water.

So, what does that leave for the municipalities? That’s a seemingly tiny sliver of intertidal coast. But, this sliver often isn’t tiny at all. It is shallow and broad and supports a valuable array of shellfish species like soft shell, hard shell, and razor clams. While these species do move around as larvae, they are more likely to stay put than other more mobile creatures. For that reason, these are the resources that each town is in charge of managing under a system called co-management. This means that towns work with the DMR who helps to classify areas that are safe for harvesting in terms of water quality and also helps with enforcing statewide regulations.

Most towns, like Brunswick, have a Marine Resources Committee that makes decisions impacting the harvesting of shellfish. They are all-volunteer bodies that have to grapple with difficult decisions about what is best both for the harvesters and for the resource. And, while it is beneficial in some ways to have these decisions made at a local level, it can also be tricky for a small group to have access to the best tools and information.

In an effort to connect the people managing shellfish resources across towns in Maine, a regional group was convened. The Casco Bay Regional Shellfish Working Group began meeting in 2019 with towns from Scarborough to Phippsburg. They hosted in-person forums back when that was still possible and have since continued by offering a series of webinars, guidance documents, and communications.

The latest effort is a survey to gain more critical feedback from shellfish committee members, wardens, and harvesters about the challenges facing the shellfish industry. That covers everything from climate change to invasive species to maintaining access to the intertidal. The survey is a needs assessment, to help identify the data and tools that could help communities to better manage their resource.

The critical part is getting the word out and encouraging harvesters and resource managers to participate. That’s not easy at a time when people can’t attend meetings in person. But, the need for the information is there. As one harvester from Yarmouth put it, “The shellfish industry of tomorrow depends on the shellfish wisdom of today. Don’t let these resources become just a story of the past; our combined efforts now can pay off for generations to come, with your help.”

If you are interested in learning more about the survey and the work of this regional group, please visit surveymonkey.com/r/ShellfishDatabaseSurvey or contact Jessica Joyce at 207-200-8795 or [email protected]

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