Source: The Times Record

Author: Susan Olcott

Date: April 16, 2020

Intertidal: A chance to understand what it takes to sustain a fishery

For the last few weeks, I’ve written about ways that people can purchase local seafood. That has included everything from finfish to lobster to shellfish. Many people and organizations are working hard to create market solutions to keep those harvesters working at an increasingly productive time of year. It’s also important not to lose site of the efforts to ensure the long-term health of those resources and the challenges that those efforts are facing right now.

Management of any resource requires scientific studies. These include basic monitoring of population levels as well as experiments to study different problems facing those populations or to try out different techniques to enhance them. The problem is that these efforts require people to work together to take samples, place and repair equipment, and process information. Since proximity of people is not possible right now, this makes much of this work difficult. That is particularly true for efforts that seek to include some of the harvesters and fishermen as a part of local conservation requirements.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Brunswick had been planning on working on multiple conservation projects this spring. One of these projects that will, perhaps be the most visible to Brunswick residents, is planned for Wharton Point at the site of the High School’s Outdoor Classroom. Wharton Point also includes a boat ramp that is used by many shellfish harvesters because of its access to Maquoit Bay. Salt marsh plants naturally hold the area along the shore together. But, in recent years, the shoreline has been slowly eroding. For this reason, this site was selected to be one of several locations in the state for some “shoring up”. This is part of the Living Shorelines Project. The state and town will be partnering up with local organizations to test a couple of different kinds of erosion control including fabric bags stuffed with crushed shell. Putting these types of bags in place requires manpower, however, and while there is typically plenty of that available, this installation is going to be more difficult with fewer people involved. But, the hope is that it will still move forward this spring.

The second project will take place further out in the water. Its goal is to measure how many baby clams are being born out on Brunswick’s flats. Brunswick’s two sites (Harps well Cove and Thomas Point Beach) is one of many sites where this is taking place around the state. The Down east Institute (DEI) is the organization spearheading these efforts. The plan is to put out “recruitment boxes” that are designed to capture the settling larvae so that the amounts can be measured and compared between different sites. The volunteer manpower required for this is to put out the boxes in the spring and bring them in in the fall. Again, this could typically be an opportunity for shellfish harvesters to earn conservation points, but it is uncertain how much they will be able to help given current health restrictions.

The last project is supported by a grant from the Broad Reach Foundation’s Shellfish Resilience Fund. This project aims to grow quahog seed out to a size where it can survive when “planted” in the mud. The hope is that it will survive until harvestable size and help augment populations in several local mudflats where quahog levels are currently low. Even after initial installation, there is ongoing labor required for this project to tend to the gear and the growing quahogs.

Each of these projects involves many different partners and tackles different aspects of managing the marine resources in a sustainable way. Since the people involved haven’t been able to meet in person, the planning has been taking place virtually. Arrangements are being made to have limited people work at a given time with the hope that they will all be able to move forward.

Perhaps one of the unexpected benefits of this period is that we have all focused a bit more on the value of our natural environment and hopefully will continue to do so. It has also given people an opportunity to understand some of our complexities and challenges of maintaining a sustainable working waterfront.

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