It was the primary official afternoon of spring, and Mike Gaffney was ankle-deep within the mud of the tidal flats of the Georgetown Oyster Farm with two researchers.
The trio weren’t there for oysters, a delicacy on the middle of an aquaculture growth in Maine, however as an alternative have been testing an experiment that some hope may assist convey the business to the state. Half-buried within the mud have been a few dozen mesh baggage and packing containers containing 1000’s of tiny hard-shelled clams, often known as quahogs.
“I’ve to say I am very blissful to see everybody right here as a result of we have had a interval of very chilly climate, stated Marissa McMahan, director of fisheries at Manomet, a scientific nonprofit that research how local weather change impacts species within the Gulf of Maine. . There’s a bridge down there that you may see. I might drive and look out into the bay and see ice all over the place. And he was like, “Oh no, I hope these baggage are nonetheless right here.” Nicely that is nice!”
This story is a part of our collection “Local weather Pushed: A Deep Dive into Maine’s Response, One County at a Time.”
Quahogs are native to Maine, however are extra generally related to southern New England and the even hotter waters additional down the east coast. However as the worldwide local weather adjustments, the Gulf of Maine is warming quicker than nearly some other a part of the ocean world wide, in keeping with researchers. And that temperature shift, together with different elements, might make Maine extra hospitable to those soft-shell clam cousins which have been an essential a part of the states’ fishing business for many years.
“They have been right here in pockets of low abundance for some time, however now we’re beginning to see some locations particularly in Casco Bay the place they’re simply thriving and turning into extremely ample,” McMahan stated. So the concept is that the timing, we predict, is true to do this sort of experiment and see if that is really one thing that may very well be sustainable.”
The federally funded experiment is investigating the perfect strategies for farming quahogs in Maine the place tidal flats are cleared of ice in the course of the winter for each aquaculture and wild inhabitants enlargement. Manomet works with Gaffney, who runs Eros Oyster along with his son in Georgetown, in addition to different shellfish farmers and officers in close by Brunswick.
Is it true, can we develop quahogs on the intertidal at a progress fee that’s worthwhile for oyster farmers to convey to market? stated Batchelder, fisheries program supervisor for Massachusetts-based Manomet, whereas standing on the Gaffneys tidal flats. We all know we will develop them on the oyster farm, however it takes a very long time for it to make financial sense for a lot of farmers.
Added Gaffney: I am curious concerning the biology aspect, the agriculture aspect, and the advertising and marketing aspect. And I feel it is enjoyable to do.
If profitable, quahog aquaculture may assist oyster farmers in addition to conventional soft-shell clam diggers diversify their companies.
Within the mid-Seventies, greater than 30 million kilos of soft-shell clams, often known as steamers, have been harvested and offered by business fishermen annually alongside the Maine coast. As we speak, that quantity has shrunk to simply 6 million kilos as local weather change has created perfect situations for inexperienced crabs and different predators.
Quahogs have more durable shells that may shut extra tightly than soft-shell clams, making them extra immune to the voracious inexperienced crabs that now plague many elements of Maine’s southern shoreline. Whereas soft-shell clams stay an essential business in Maine, most of the historic soft-shell flats have been decimated by invasive crabs, and diggers are discovering it more and more troublesome to entry different flats as new landowners shut tidal flats. areas.
Constructing resilience because the Gulf heats up
Kevin Madley, regional aquaculture coordinator for the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Gloucester, Mass., stated in an interview that the event of recent aquaculture sectors can assist fishermen overcome a number of the challenges posed by local weather change, as species which have been as soon as plentiful are starting to dwindle. And he stated Maine’s soft-shell clam business, which has been hit arduous by inexperienced crabs, is one that would profit from different markets.
One of many issues NOAA is specializing in is diversifying alternatives to be extra resilient, Madley stated. We do not essentially know what all of the adjustments might be within the coming many years. One of many issues we attempt to do is anticipate that and anticipate what the adjustments are. However providing these different alternatives by supporting new sectors is a means of being resilient, impartial of what these adjustments are going to be.
Quahogs are massive enterprise in states like Virginia, the place federal knowledge reveals fishermen harvested practically $58 million from the clams in 2021. Quahogs additionally introduced in about $14 million that yr in Massachusetts, which has a rising aquaculture business. quahog. Maine’s quahog harvest is small, by comparability, however has grown greater than sixfold over the previous decade.
Gaffney was a prepared associate within the Manomet undertaking, which is funded by a USDA grant.
He has been rising oysters for about six years within the tidal river that flows from this secluded spot on Georgetown Island, a couple of miles from Reid State Park. Eros Oyster sells about 400,000 of the prized shellfish grown by Gaffney and different native oyster farmers to eating places and different consumers all through the area. They’re a part of a thriving business that now has about 150 oyster farms up and down the coast.
Gaffney stated his telephone began ringing off the hook a couple of weeks in the past with eating places asking for oysters and anything he may present.
“Purchasers name me on a regular basis and say, ‘So, what else do you’ve?’ he stated. I say, “nicely, we’re monocultures. We’re oysters. However there is no cause we won’t do extra.”
Driving oyster coat
Within the fall, the workforce positioned a few dozen mesh baggage and plastic packing containers within the nutrient-rich tidal flats on the Gaffneys’ property. Baggage and packing containers are used within the oyster business, the place shellfish are grown for a number of years on floating farms. However preliminary experiments present that quahogs do not develop as quick or as nicely on this setup than on tidal flats.
Every container began with between 400 and 1,000 quahogs. And whereas they would not know for a couple of extra weeks how the younger shellfish fared over the winter, there have been promising indicators on this explicit evening. Whereas the ice had moved or washed away a number of the baggage, Batchelder and McMahan may clearly see some quahogs within the casings.
I might say the teachings from this winter are undoubtedly some motion on the ice. . . and it was in all probability uncovered, so will probably be attention-grabbing to see what the survival is after we open it up, Batchelder stated.
Gaffney stated he just lately learn an account from a Florida oyster and oyster farmer who stated he estimated he may develop 10 hard-shell clams for a similar quantity of effort put into every oyster. The latter are presently getting extra money, and creating quahogs in Maine would require overcoming logistical and climate challenges that aren’t as extreme additional south.
However Gaffney says if shellfish farmers can “set it and overlook it” within the mudflats with out frequent upkeep, equivalent to ceaselessly digging up the enclosures or transferring them within the winter, he stated many farmers would possibly simply give it a strive.
“I have never had any to promote but, however, like I stated, I have been getting numerous requires them, he stated. And I think they will experience the oysters. The farmers have made the gross sales connection.
Manomet plans to review quahog aquaculture on the Gaffney property for the following a number of seasons.