Maine Clammers Lost Millions
A UMM researcher puts a dollar figure on closing clam flats
August 4, 2006
MACHIAS - Maine clammers lost $3.6 million when red tide and runoff from heavy rains closed flats from Kittery to the Canadian border last year. That's according to the findings of Dr. Kevin Athearn, a natural resource economist at the University of Maine at Machias. In the first part of a two-part study, Athearn used records from the Maine Department of Marine Resources to conduct a town-by-town comparison of soft-shell clam landings, harvest revenue and flat closures.
Athearn looked at both red tide and flood closures – flats the DMR closes after heavy rainfalls result in polluted run-off. Last year's record rainfalls caused much of the Maine coast to be closed to clamming for many days at a time and created favorable conditions for the outbreak of red tide – the common name for a harmful algal bloom that can sicken shellfish and humans. “The 2005 loss of soft-shell clam harvester income from red tide alone was $2 million,” Athearn said.
Although numerous towns along the Maine coast were affected, the large area closures due to flood and red tide hit Cumberland County and Washington County the hardest. Cumberland County clammers lost $1.2 million in 2005, according to Athearn's figures. Washington County, which accounts for nearly one third of the state soft-shell clam harvest, was second with an estimated loss of $1.0 million.
His preliminary findings are the first part of an on-going study to determine the economic impact of Maine's shellfish industry and the potential economic benefits of restoring shellfish habitat. The project is supported by a grant from the Davis Conservation Foundation to UMM.
Athearn said his current figures only apply to lost harvester income from clam sales. He plans to include lost revenues from ocean quahogs, mussels and oysters, as well as lost revenues to shellfish dealers, wholesalers and processors.
Maine's shellfish industry sustained such severe losses in 2005 that the federal government is providing $2 million in disaster aid. DMR hearings on how best to distribute those funds will take place later this summer. Athearn said the DMR has been helpful in providing data he used for the study.
Athearn's position as natural resource economist is funded under a National Science Foundation grant that UMM shares with the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education. The grant was written by Dr. Brian Beal and provided two-year funding for a natural resource economist. The University is continuing Athearn's position at the end of the grant period.