Efforts by Local People to Sustain the Clam Fishery Led to the Establishment of the Easternmost Marine Research Facility & Education Center in the U.S.
A new film tells the story about how a group of dedicated community members began a 4-H project to grow clams and, through grit and determination, persevered to build a public shellfish hatchery and world class marine research facility and education center in the rural fishing village of Beals.
Narrated by founding board members and illustrated by archival photos and video, the documentary describes why the Downeast Institute (DEI) was formed, the critical individuals and perspectives involved, and how DEI has helped push the boundaries of diverse marine research and education in downeast Maine and beyond.
The origin of DEI came from a project needed by the new nuclear power plant Maine Yankee in Wiscasset. The plant needed to conduct research to prove that the warm waters they discharged didn’t hurt larval bivalves. Sam Chapman, who worked at the Darling Center in Walpole was asked to spawn clams for the research. He was able to spawn about two dozen clams. After Maine Yankee took what they needed Sam still had millions of eggs left. He didn’t want to throw them away.
“My boss at the time made the remark that, ‘we all know raising clams can’t be done’. After that, there was no way I wasn’t going to try my best to do just that,” explained founding Board Member Sam Chapman.
The clam spawning and growing technology was transferred to a new 4-H program in Jonesboro. John Cox wanted to develop an opportunity for local kids to learn about the biology of clams, an important fishery and livelihood. The “Jonesboro 4-H Clam Project” was set up in the basement of the old school. Under the guidance of a retired teacher, students learned how to spawn and raise clams, as well as how to grow their food (algae).
When clam landings began to decline in the 1980s, concerned citizens decided to utilize what had been learned about culturing clams to develop a hatchery that can be used to enhance local mudflats to sustain the fishery. Six downeast towns, along with local seafood company A.C. INC, came together to convert an old clam shucking station to a hatchery. From there the people behind DEI surmounted many obstacles and challenges to continue to grow the organization into what it is today, an organization that continues to seek to improve the lives of coastal Maine residents and the natural resources they depend on.
This story celebrates the unique culture of downeast Maine. It was funded by the Eastern Maine Conservation Initiative and produced by Tate Yoder of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.