AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- In Augusta Wednesday, one part of Maine's fishing industry was pitted against another, as clam diggers asked for a law that could put new restrictions on people who dig for marine bloodworms. But the dispute is really small invasive animal called the Green Crab. Clammers have been sounding the alarm about the green crab for more than a year. The crabs have been rapidly increasing in numbers, and they prey on clams and other shellfish. Some clammers and scientists predict the crabs could destroy the commercial shellfish industry.
For that reason, clammers from the Brunswick/Freeport area are pushing for new conservation efforts, including protecting special clam flat areas in various towns. That is what brought a crowd of wormer to the Statehouse, as they packed a hearing by the Marine Resources Committee on a bill to allow digging bans.
The clammers want the Legislature to let towns close off up to ten percent of their clam flats to the worm diggers, as part of local conservation efforts. They say only towns with actual conservation plans would be allowed to do it. The wormers are angry about the proposal, saying they're being targeted for a problem they didn't cause. One legislator read from a 1995 study by the Department of Marine Resources, indicating worm digging does not harm juvenile clams. Worm diggers cited that report as evidence the new law would only hurt their income, and not help fight the green crab.
The legislative committee finally agreed to change the proposed bill. It eliminated the part about closing any areas to worm diggers. Instead, it took the suggestion of DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher, to make it a civil violation for anyone to "molest" equipment that has been installed on clam flats for conservation purposes. This will include nets and fences clammers in Freeport have been using to prevent green crabs from reaching some of the clam flats.
Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Somerville), who is co-chairman of the committee, says the clammers and wormers both agreed with the change.