Fellow Story

Growing an applied fisheries program to adapt to a warming Gulf of Maine

Fellow(s): Marissa McMahan

The overarching goal of Marissa McMahan's new position as Senior Scientist at Manomet was to grow the applied fisheries science program for the Gulf of Maine.  There were three specific projects that she focused on to meet this goal.  The first project involved municipal outreach for restoring and growing the soft-shell clam resource in Maine.  Soft-shell clams have suffered from increased predation by invasive European green crabs in recent years.  The goal of the project was to use clam farming techniques that protect soft-shell clams from crab predation with nets.  Though they have yet to figure out how to make soft-shell clam farming an economically viable industry, Marissa and colleagues were able to build from this project to start researching the viability of quahog aquaculture using similar techniques.  Quahogs, or hard-shell clams, are more resistant to green crab predation, and are also worth more money to clam harvesters than soft-shell clams.  Although this project is in its infancy, Marissa and Manomet are very encouraged by what they have learned so far, and by the overwhelming support for this research from the fishing industry.

The second project focused on developing fisheries and markets for the invasive European green crab.  Green crabs are a voracious predator of native bivalve species, and destroy important salt marsh and eel grass habitat.  By developing fisheries and markets for this species, Manomet is helping to diversify resources for fishermen, and encouraging the removal of an invasive species from the ecosystem.  Marissa made great progress on this project and also received federal funding to continue the research for two more years.  In addition, she maximized outreach and education efforts on this topic through organizing and hosting meetings and workshops, media coverage, school visits ranging from elementary to college, and volunteer citizen science events.

The third project involved determining the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of the northern range expansion of black sea bass.  This species has only recently been found in the Gulf of Maine, and poses a threat to Maine's lobster populations, on which a significant portion of Maine's economy depends.  Marissa was able to secure extremely competitive federal funding to support this research for the next two years, and over the course of this past year she spent time continuing to engage with the black sea bass Stock Assessment Working Group, and state and federal sea bass managers.  Additionally, she co-organized a sea bass session at the American Fisheries Society Meeting.  This has served to keep the past six years of sea bass research from her PhD relevant, and ensure it is utilized in the assessment and management process going forward.