Beal quoted on viability of protection plan for Maine clams from green crabs
Jonesport native Brian Beal, a marine ecologist at the University of Maine at Machias and director of research at the state’s principal clam hatchery, the Downeast Institute on Great Wass Island, has been studying soft-shell clams for three decades. His data paint a stark and consistent picture of a resource driven to the brink by warm water-loving predators, from green crabs to worms.
“Quite frankly, I don’t believe in cycles,” he says. “A lot of this is driven by water temperature. As water temperature increases, we get a higher predation rate because most of the predators are invertebrates who are much more active in warm water.”
Protecting the clams from predation as Warner’s project does is now the name of the game, Beal argues, and he has plenty of data to back it up. Last month in Jonesport and Beals, his students seeded plots with half-inch clams, protecting some with nets and leaving others unguarded. Four days later, 95 percent of the clams in the protected plots were still there, but only 60 percent of those exposed to predators were. “I was just blown away by that,” he says.
In a much larger project last year in Freeport’s Harraseeket River, Beal oversaw the placement of two net-covered plots similar to those at Heal Eddy. Nine months later, 90 percent of the seeded clams had survived in one of the plots, plus a staggering 1,400 wild clams per square foot were taking refuge there, or 330,000 in the 12-by-20-foot plot. Outside the net, just a few feet away, there were just 0.4 clams per square foot.
“That’s pretty … amazing!” he says.