Management and Sustainability
Soft Shell Clam Management
Local municipalities in partnership with the state manage softshell clams in Maine. The state mandates the following regulations:
Minimum Size Limit: The 2-inch law
Similar to the Maine lobster fishery, any clam harvested in Maine must meet a minimum size requirement. To be legal to harvest clams must be 2 inches (end to end) in length.
Maine limits the gear used in clamming to hand or rake harvest in the intertidal area.
To ensure the environmental and food safety of the shellfish resource, towns employ pollution and conservation clamflat closures.
Pollution closures include:
- Closures for excessive rainfall (runoff from the land carrying toxins into the water)
- Closures for sewer treatment (outflow areas)
- Red tide closures
- Seasonal closures (as with seasonal marina areas)
Conservation closures include:
- newly seeded areas.
State biologists help municipalities with resource assessment and management. Maine towns manage shellfish (except for intertidal mussel permits) to the lower tide line. The Maine Municipal Shellfish Program requires towns adopt and enforce a town Shellfish Conservation Ordinance.
Each town employs a Municipal Shellfish Warden for enforcement purposes such as ensuring clammers are properly licensed, and that all clamdigging activities are legal. Since shellfish resources are under threat from the changing climate and pollution, the MCA believes that the role of the Shellfish Warden should be modernized in order to more adequately address the town’s true shellfish needs. The modernized role of the Shellfish Warden should include a focus on conservation measures, including invasive green crab trapping and fencing activities, and clean water education.
Clams are a sustainable, renewable resource. Without human threats such as climate change and water pollution, clams should continue to be a healthy food resource that Mainers and others enjoy for generations to come. Unfortunately water pollution and invasive species threaten Maine shellfish populations. The Maine Clammers Association has initiated efforts to protect Maine’s shellfish, but can’t do it alone. Learn more about what you can do to protect Maine’s shellfish here >
Maine clams are managed at the state level and soft shell clams are managed at the town level. Local control of the fishery allows management to rapidly respond to changes and allows local harvesters significant input into the management process. Many towns have a yearly conservation requirement for acquiring and maintaining shellfish licenses. This provision separates wild clammers from other fisheries, which don’t have such a conservation requirement. Though some of these town conservation programs could use some development and streamlining, the industry conservation requirement is a major step in the right direction for marine stewardship. The requirement gives the wild clammers a chance to give back to the marine resource based economy.
Clamming is very economically sustainable. As a renewable resource, clamming has the potential to provide an income for Mainers far into the future. Each harvester is essentially his/her own small business. In Maine, we are lucky that the traditional model of independent clamming still thrives, and hasn’t been replaced by corporate owned and controlled fishery. That is because study after has shown that locallyowned independent small businesses, such as those associated with clamming in Maine, generate much greater benefits for the local economy than national chains do. Locally-owned businesses have a larger positive economic impact on the community and tax base because significantly more of the money generated stays in state. Also, locally-owned businesses make more purchases from other local businesses and service providers. All of this contributes to strengthening the economic base of the community.
Clamming is also very egalitarian: the start up doesn’t require large upfront investments in equipment, just a clam hoe (or not), gloves, waders, boots, clam hod, and maybe a skiff.
Clamming is part of Maine’s traditional diversified marine resource based economy. It has been shown that small businesses increase a community’s level of social capital and well-being.
In addition, MCA is strongly committed to social sustainability and has put in place a myriad of programs to advance social well-being.