Maine hopes to open flats to shellfishing

By Clarke Canfield
Associated Press / August 5, 2011

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PORTLAND, Maine - Maine officials have launched a program that aims to reopen some of the tens of thousands of acres of clam flats that are closed to harvesting because of poor water quality.

A team from the Department of Marine Resources is taking a close look at flats that have been closed because of high bacteria levels. By working with town officials and focusing on specific areas, the team hopes to reopen some of them to harvesting and make them productive.

Clam digger Chad Coffin of Freeport said the effort will go a long way toward helping Maine’s clam industry and its nearly 1,800 licensed diggers, he said.

“To see them come up with the shellfish SWAT team is a breath of fresh air,’’ Coffin said. “Everyone’s excited about it.’’

There were more than 140,000 acres of shellfish-growing area closed to harvesting in 2007, according to the most recent statistics from the Department of Marine Resources. Another 36,000 acres were restricted. Besides soft-shell clams, the flats are harvested for mussels, quahogs, and oysters.

The idea behind the new program is to focus on those closed areas, some of which have been shut down for years, and work with local officials to get some of them open, said Linda Mercer, director of the department’s Bureau of Resource Management.

They include the Harraseeket River in Freeport, parts of Maquoit Bay off Brunswick, the Medomak River in Waldoboro, and numerous small coves and inlets.

Most of the targeted areas have been closed because of water-quality issues caused by faulty septic systems, runoff, and other sources.