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.
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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid