About five years ago, the town started taking steps to manage the clam and crab populations. The Downeast Institute has been a key partner in this work, supplying seed clams to restore clam flats and expertise about how to do it. The Schoodic Institute connected the Gouldsboro shellfish committee to the Pathways Program at Sumner Memorial High School, where students collected, analyzed, and presented data that the committee used in making decisions about where to focus its restoration work.

A young female green crab with eggs
Young female green crab with egg mass. Photo credit: Mike Pinkham

When it restores clam flats, the town places tens of thousands of one-year-old juvenile clams — each about a third or half-inch long — onto the mud in April or May. Shellfish harvesters and volunteers then cover the juvenile clams with netting that protects the clams from seagulls and crabs. Of course, there are already crabs in the mud under the nets, but the nets do help.

In 2019, Gouldsboro decided it wanted to expand its restoration activities. Rather than just seeding 100,000 or so clams each year, the shellfish committee was interested in trying new approaches to setting out and protecting clam seed in more places along the town’s 50+ miles of coastline.

The cost of seed clams was a barrier to program expansion. The one-year-old clams that Gouldsboro was spreading on the flats cost $25 per thousand. Shellfish warden Mike Pinkham got to wondering whether the town might be able to save some money and, at the same time, have many more clams for use in seeding if it took over the job of growing the clams during their first summer and winter.

Picture of a large donated fiberglass tank
A donated tank inside donated lab building prior to remodeling

Downeast Institute sells very small (0.05 inch), newly hatched clams for about $6 a thousand. For 500,000 clams, buying them newly hatched rather than one-year-old would save $9,500. If the town took over the growing process, how many clams would it need to raise to break even on annual operating expenses? At what point could it begin to pay back the investment in the facility needed to support the growth? Could we put together such a facility using donated materials? If we brought more clam flats back to health, would the town be able to bring more harvesters back to the fishery? Would the growth in license fees be enough to defray some of the costs?

So many questions.

Gouldsboro put together a proposal to the Maine Shellfish Restoration and Resilience Fund that promised to explore these questions and share the results with other towns in return for initial funding to get the lab started. As of this writing (December 2021) the lab is finally up and running and we are just now getting started on the experiments, data collection, and sharing. Stay tuned.