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
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.
Reuters
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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs