Abden Simmons, a Waldoboro selectman and chair of the Waldoboro Shellfish Conservation Committee, runs a depuration crew for Moody’s Shellfish, a company with operations in Cushing, Harpswell, Phippsburg, Scarborough, and Waldoboro.
Simmons was on hand for the Bremen meeting to give notice to the town of the then-upcoming dig. The dig took place Sunday, June 5.
Depuration, another word for purification, is a process in which clams are immersed in water and treated, allowing them to purify themselves.
According to Simmons, who has participated in the digs for 25 years, his crew was going to harvest clams in a portion of Broad Cove currently subject to a restricted closure.
He said to dig a closed area, depuration harvesters need a state license and must provide 48 hours notice to the town where the digging will take place.
“All we are required (to do) by state law is to just give you 48 hours notice of the intent to harvest, but I like to come down and talk to the community and the shellfish committee or select board to give them a heads-up of what’s going to happen,” Simmons said.
Selectman Hank Nevins said in the event Bremen’s shellfish ordinance had a conservation measure or pollution abatement plan, the town could impede the dig, but since the town ordinance lacks those particulars, it makes the harvesting a state issue.
Simmons said he would be happy and willing to use Bremen harvesters if they were to show interest in taking part in the dig.
“As many as that want to come. We’ll use the local guys,” Simmons said. Roughly four Bremen clammers participated in the dig.
Bremen clammers in attendance at the meeting expressed frustration that a depuration dig would take place in a portion of Broad Cove that has only been under a restricted closure for a few months.
Marginally polluted flats are classified as restricted, which means clams harvested there must go through the depuration process and be tested before being sold.
Selectman Boe Marsh said the depuration dig was a shot across the bow for the town, reinforcing the importance of having an active and effective shellfish committee.
“This is a pure and simple example of why we need harvesters on the clam committee … the point is, I’m not happy about it either, but this is the law,” Marsh said.
Marsh said that with a clear ordinance and an active committee, the town could prevent similar digs in the future, and Bremen harvesters could protect the economic asset of Broad Cove and ensure Bremen harvesters are the only ones utilizing the resource.
“This is a very cheap lesson in making sure we have a conservation ordinance and everything else,” Marsh said.
According to Maine Department of Marine Resources Public Health Bureau Director Kohl Kanwit, when shellfish areas are under a restricted closure, it becomes a state issue, not a town issue.
“Restricted shellfish areas don’t fall under municipal shellfish programs,” Kanwit said.
Kanwit said a depuration dig involves authorized representatives (harvesters) of a certified depuration dealer harvesting clams from a restricted area under a closely observed process.
She said the area in Broad Cove was downgraded to restricted in the spring and the source of pollution has not been determined.
Marsh said the town attempted to stop the harvesting, but did not have the ability to do so.
“We did try in earnest to stop it,” Marsh said.
The DMR classifies shellfish beds according to water quality, closing grossly polluted areas or those threatened by specific pollutants.
Clam flats that are opening to harvesting at certain times are subjected to conditional closures, while clean flats are open year-round.