It ain’t straightforward being a clammer. The soft-shell clam fishery — the second most beneficial fishery within the state final yr — is dealing with growing pressures underneath local weather change and is being picked aside by the invasive inexperienced crab.
However a brand new downside has emerged up to now two years because the pandemic ignited an actual property explosion alongside the Maine coast: it’s more and more onerous for clam diggers to even get to the intertidal flats to make their dwelling.
Clammers up and down the coast report that entry factors to the mud are quickly disappearing as new individuals purchase up properties and aren’t occupied with persevering with outdated handshake agreements that allowed clammers to cross their property to get out onto the flats.
“In the event you’re on the coast, likelihood is you have got very deep pockets,” stated Kevin Oliver, a long-time clam digger from North Yarmouth. “You probably have a pleasant mansion, you sometimes don’t need individuals strolling throughout your property.”
Whereas clammers from Harpswell to Lubec stated it’s at all times been a battle to maintain a few of these agreements going — a peck of clams can usually clean the deal — many have fallen by the wayside up to now two years as properties flip. New homeowners are sometimes both onerous to succeed in or aren’t occupied with having clammers traipse throughout their yards.
Amanda Lyons, a clammer in Lubec, had about two dozen entry factors she used earlier than the pandemic. They ranged from public landings and trails to those ubiquitous casual offers with native property homeowners.
She estimates she’s misplaced about 10 since then and has seen many “no trespassing” indicators and gates go up up to now two years.
“Loads of handshake agreements which were in place for 20, 30 years aren’t there,” she stated.
This lack of entry has elevated obstacles and the overhead price of moving into the fishery, which traditionally at all times had one of many lowest bars of entry. In contrast to the state’s most beneficial fishery, lobstering, clamming may be achieved with out costly tools and enormous boats. It largely depends on a willingness to dwell a life across the tides and hunched over within the mud.
Non-public entry factors to the general public flats are important as a result of they’re usually the shortest and best routes for clammers to convey their sleds weighed down with tons of of kilos of clams ashore.
However with these quick channels being minimize off, Mike Pinkham, the clam warden in Gouldsboro, stated extra clammers are having to resort to utilizing boats — usually small aluminum skiffs or canoes — which permit them to journey from farther entry factors to no matter flats are the best at a given time of yr.
In southern Maine, many have began utilizing airboats, which have sparked new issues with shoreline property homeowners over noise.
However the usage of a ship can add a number of hours onto a day’s work, in addition to an growing stage of hazard to the year-round job. Whereas it could not look like a giant deal to some, Pinkham in contrast it with frequently having to drive via a blizzard to get to work.
“The ocean can change and rear its ugly head at any time,” he stated. “They don’t have huge lobster boats — they’ve 14 to 16 foot skiffs.”
It’s onerous to say precisely how a lot entry has been misplaced because the pandemic. There isn’t a ironclad rely of what number of entry factors there have been within the first place since many of those weren’t written down and a few are downright secrets and techniques.
However these casual agreements appear to be throwing in the towel, prompting officers to pursue extra formal easements, conservation measures and potential tax breaks for landowners who permit entry. A number of communities are beginning to take stock of what entry factors are nonetheless open and what has been misplaced.
Jessica Joyce, a pacesetter of the Casco Bay Regional Shellfish Working Group and a member of the state’s shellfish advisory council, stated entry has shortly develop into one of many largest points within the fishery, and he or she’s been working to map entry factors within the Casco Bay area. Pinkham is doing comparable work in Gouldsboro and is teaming up with Maine Coast Heritage Belief to doubtlessly protect entry factors.
There are additionally makes an attempt to strengthen the entry that’s nonetheless round.
Harvesters in Harpswell plan to carry a landowners appreciation picnic later this summer season, showering them with clam chowder, steamers and oysters. Paul Plummer, the city’s marine assets administrator, hopes it permits clammers and landowners to doubtlessly break down obstacles and stereotypes that both might have.
“We hope it could actually bridge the hole from these two events,” he stated.
The true property bonanza alongside the coast has additionally spurred some communities to rethink how they regulate the clam fishery. In Maine, cities can implement native guidelines on clamming and clam licenses are sometimes tied to residency.
However in Harpswell, there’s a concern that clammers could also be pushed out of the coastal neighborhood, which means they’d additionally lose their likelihood to reap the city’s flats.
The city not too long ago modified its guidelines that might permit resident harvesters who lived on the town for no less than 5 years to maintain their resident standing even when they moved out of city so long as they proceed to do the already required conservation work and maintain their license updated.
“Coastal gentrification is making it subsequent to unimaginable for these harvesters to remain on the town,” Plummer stated. “I believe the city of Harpswell acknowledged there isn’t lots of inexpensive housing or workforce housing on the town.”
Diggers, who one clammer described because the “stray cats” of the fishing world, aren’t fully innocent on the subject of the lack of entry. Wardens and clammers have anecdotes of clammers leaving trash behind or being impolite to householders, making the property homeowners surprise if the “no trespassing” indicators are a good suggestion.
Dustin Black, a clammer in Lamoine, wished that they wouldn’t all get painted with the identical broad brush.
“There’s some diggers that most likely are leaving trash and stuff like that,” Black stated. “However most of us clear it up after we see it.”
The entry restoration efforts are all pretty new. Oliver, the North Yarmouth clammer, stated it’s essential to fix these fences with landowners now so the fishery can concentrate on its different daunting challenges.
“I assist any effort to assist keep these entry factors,” he stated. “They’re extra crucial than ever as the value of property retains going up.”