News / Science & Technology

Warmer Seas Fuel Maine Crab Invasion, Clammers Say

Chad Coffin, president of the Maine Clammer's Association, digs for prized soft-shell clams or "steamers," Casco Bay in Freeport, Maine, May 30, 2013.
Chad Coffin, president of the Maine Clammer's Association, digs for prized soft-shell clams or "steamers," Casco Bay in Freeport, Maine, May 30, 2013.
An invasion of European green crabs, encouraged by rising ocean temperatures, is eating its way north through Maine's clam flats, threatening the state's third-largest fishery and an iconic summer treat for tourists.
"If something isn't done soon, it will mean the death of the clam fishery," said Chad Coffin, president of the Maine Clammers Association. "I don't think people understand just how big a problem this is."
The invasive crabs likely reached U.S. shores in the early 1800s after hitching a ride across the Atlantic on ships, according to scientists. Once here, the crustaceans gradually worked their way to Maine, where they have been present for at least a century.
What has changed the picture, according to clammers, is that warmer water temperatures have created a crab boom, and those crabs are now consuming clam beds like never before.
The state's soft-shell clams or "steamers" have long been popular with vacationers looking for a "taste of Maine." The steamers are the state's third-largest fishing industry, behind lobsters and elvers, worth an estimated $15 million last year.
The green crab is listed among the "worst 100" invaders on the Global Invasive Species Database and is known for its propensity for clams, oysters, mussels, quahogs, and scallops — ocean delicacies long relished by New Englanders.
But climate change has added a new and unpredictable dynamic to the problem of invasive species, say scientists.
A 2010 World Bank report estimated damages from the global warming-fueled spread of invasive species at more than $1.4 trillion annually, or nearly five percent of the global economy.
Already, warming temperatures on land and at sea have facilitated the spread of such high-profile invasive species as lionfish in the Caribbean Sea and forest pests like the Asian hemlock woolly adelgid — a tree parasite — in the Eastern United States, both of which have caused extensive economic and ecological damage, say scientists.
"Our own impacts are making these historic and existing invasions even worse," said Ted Grosholz, a scientist at the University of California at Davis who has studied the spread of green crabs and other invasive species on both coasts.
Green crabs, he says, filled a niche in Maine largely vacant before their arrival — the mucky, formerly crab-less intertidal zone favored by soft-shell clams. "Soft shell clams were sitting ducks," said Grosholz.
Call to action

On Thursday morning in Maine's island-speckled Casco Bay, low tide and a lifting fog unveiled a vast mud flat as Chad Coffin and Connor O'Neil, both of Freeport, made their way to the clamming grounds.
"We're realizing that in a single lifetime clams and mussels have disappeared from most of our flats," said Coffin, who has spent nearly 40 years fishing on the Maine coast.
A Maine clammer might typically earn an annual income of around $30,000.
Coffin said his group had recently begun researching the impact of rising sea levels on the intertidal flats frequented by clams and mussels, but quickly realized there was a more immediate problem.

"If there's nothing left but green crabs, then we're done, no matter what happens with the ocean," he said.
Clammers in Freeport lobbied the town, which last year committed $100,000 to efforts at monitoring and controlling crab populations, including trapping, fencing, research and education efforts, said Town Manager Peter Joseph.
In the first "haul" of the season, Coffin said clammers pulled nearly 400 pounds of green crabs from a small area. Already, he said, composters, seafood exporters and even a pet food company have contacted the town seeking to use the crab remains, though he notes few are willing to pay.
Climate-induced disruptions are not new to the Gulf of Maine.
Last year, the state's hallmark $350 million lobster industry was rocked by drastically warmer spring water temperatures that threw off the timing of the annual harvest, leading to a glut of early-season lobster and plummeting prices.
Coffin said he recognizes the need for further study before cause and effect can be established, but says clammers do not have the luxury of time.
"We used to take and expect Mother Nature to replenish, but that's a thing of the past," he said, turning over a clump of mud to expose hundreds of scurrying crabs. "Things are changing fast and it's getting out of control."

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs