Lincoln County clamdiggers, including nearly 200 in Waldoboro, have little to no work as restaurant closures in Maine and the U.S. effectively eliminate the market for soft-shell clams.
Bremen Selectman Boe Marsh, owner of Community Shellfish Co. LLC, a seafood dealer and processor in Bremen, described the market for soft-shell clams as virtually nonexistent.
“Because soft-shell clams are big restaurant items, the market for steamers is basically nonexistent,” Marsh said.
According to Marsh, the only market for soft-shell clams right now involves shellfish dealers and speculators buying the mollusks at a greatly reduced rate.
Marsh said his clam buying station is currently closed due to coronavirus.
“The reason we closed is, we have about 20 employees and there is no market with restaurants or food service, and with the dangers of having our employees working and harvesters coming in, we decided to close,” Marsh said.
The Community Shellfish business also includes a lobster dock and an aquaculture facility. Marsh said both have been impacted by the coronavirus.
The oyster farm by the Bremen Lobster Pound Co-op is running with a skeleton crew and there are few people at the lobster dock.
“The impact has been substantial on the soft-shell clam industry, but it has had a similar impact on lobsters and oysters too,” Marsh said.
Marsh was not sure if other local clam buying stations are open.
“The flats are open. They can be dug; there is just no commercial market right now,” Marsh said.
Abden Simmons owns A & A Shellfish Inc., a shellfish dealer and processor in Waldoboro. Simmons said the industry has taken a big hit.
Under typical circumstances, shucked clams are popular with restaurants for fried clams.
“We haven’t had any market. We are pretty much shut down,” Simmons said.
Simmons normally employs four to eight people and buys from 15-20 clammers. Now, he employs only a couple people, to process crabs, and sees only a couple clammers each day.
“Without restaurants, we just can’t get rid of our product. We are very limited right now, doing 2-5% of what we usually do,” Simmons said.
Lee Bennett, a Waldoboro shellfish harvester, said area clam markets have shut down, and the only option for clammers is to sell to family and friends.
“I was selling for A & A but it has shut off completely. There is no market right now,” Bennett said.
Bennett said Waldoboro has about 170 shellfish harvesters, all of whom have been impacted by the crash in the industry’s market.
“All the clamdiggers I know, everybody I talked to, is out of work right now,” Bennett said.
Bennett said he has seen some harvesters selling clams via Facebook.
According to Simmons, a reseeding project in Waldoboro was due to go ahead, which would provide some relief to local clammers. A work day on the Medomak River was planned for Tuesday, March 31.
The project involves the relocation of small clams from productive portions of the river to areas where clam populations are less dense, according to Simmons.
Simmons said the project received a $6,700 grant from the Maine Shellfish Restoration and Resilience Project, which supports clam and mussel fisheries in Maine.
Simmons, a Waldoboro selectman and chair of the town’s shellfish conservation committee, said the committee pays Waldoboro harvesters to do the hard work of reseeding.
Bennett was among the clammers planning to take part in the reseeding work.
“Anything to help the river out,” Bennett said.
Simmons said the reseeding project offers Waldoboro harvesters a chance to earn money during a difficult time. Each harvester was to earn $200 per half-bushel of small clams (1 inch or smaller) transplanted.
According to Simmons, town license holders have the opportunity to contribute funds instead of required conservation time. The committee has used these funds to conduct testing on the river, develop a watershed plan, and pay harvesters to assist with reseeding efforts.
Simmons said the more harvesters who assist with reseeding efforts, the better. About nine harvesters took part in the effort when clams were moved from Bains Brook to Sampson Cove in September 2019.
“We really need 25-50 people to show up. It’s a big area, about 60-70 acres, and we need people on the shore digging, and people out on the mud,” Simmons said.