Everyone who comes to Maine thinks of lobster. It is on license plates, at every gift shop at airports and visitors’ centers, and is iconic to the state. To be clear, I love lobster. I spent my graduate school years studying the offshore lobster population, sampling on boats and learning about their reproduction in the lab. They are amazing, hardy creatures that can survive in an impressive range of environmental conditions — somewhat akin to how you could describe the people who choose to live in Maine and, in particular, the people who fish for lobster, sometimes even during the cold winters.

Then there is the humble clam. I call it humble only because when was the last time you saw a cute, stuffed clam at a seaside shop? Or heard someone say, “Oh, you’re going to Maine. I bet you’re going to eat some delicious clams”? To be fair, clams are a bit less interesting to depict in the form of souvenir trinkets and they don’t travel so well in a package you can take with you on a plane. But did you know that clams are third in commercial fishing value in the state of Maine? That’s third only to lobsters and elvers, which are not caught in huge quantities but bring a very high price. There were more than $6 million pounds of soft-shell clams harvested statewide last year, bringing in over $16 million in revenue. Among the many coastal towns where shellfish are harvested, Brunswick ranked No. 1 in 2022. We have 63 commercially licensed diggers who harvested over half a million pounds of soft-shell clams with a value of over $1.5 million dollars. That’s a significant contribution to the town’s economy, which many residents are not aware of despite the fact that there’s even a clammer on our town flag.

Steamer the Clam high-fives parade-goers during the 2022 festival parade. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald file photo

Yet the humble clam is often overlooked. Undoubtedly, lobsters not only bring in significantly more value in landings but also bring in additional revenue via the draw they have for Maine’s tourism, the state’s largest economic driver. Lobsters are also highly celebrated through various events throughout the year. At Christmas, for example there are boat parades that include Santa riding on a lobster boat and decorative trees in town plazas constructed of lobster traps or buoys. There are several popular summertime lobster festivals as well, including the biggest one up in Rockland that happens each August and lasts for five days.

There is another festival, however, that’s worth checking out and is solely dedicated to clams. The Yarmouth Clam Festival is only three days long but includes a shucking contest, live music, a carnival, a road race and fun run, fireworks, and a parade that this year will include a giant clam hod float, among many other festivities. The float, which is a reproduction of the traditional curved bottom wire frame and wooden clam basket used to collect and rinse clams, is thanks to the efforts of many local clammers who organized to build it with the help of the Casco Bay Regional Shellfish Working Group, a nonprofit that brings together clammers and managers from multiple towns to share resources. They have been collaborating with the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and the Maine Shellfish Learning Network to support this year’s festival.

Another critical element of the festival is, of course, the food. An array of food vendors will have both traditional fair foods like fried dough and hot dogs and samples of local shellfish. You can feel good about supporting local clam harvesters by trying some shellfish at the festival, according to research by the partnering organizations mentioned above that found that the suppliers of the shellfish both for the vendors and for the shucking contest source the shellfish from local dealers.

In all transparency, I have never been to one of the previous 55 Yarmouth Clam Festivals. But the shucking contest and clam hod float in the parade this year might tip me over the balance despite the fact that I generally try to avoid large public summer events in Maine. And who knows? Maybe the sun will even come out in time for this year’s festival. The 56th Yarmouth Clam Festival, which is sponsored by the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce, takes place July 21-23 with the shucking contest on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the parade running on the opening night (Friday) from 6-7:30 p.m. A full schedule of events can be found at clamfestival.com/schedule. Come celebrate the humble clam and support local clam harvesters, an important component of Maine’s heritage and economy.

Susan Olcott is the director of operations at Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

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