BAR HARBOR — Surveys of Clark’s Cove have shown a steady population of quahogs and a growing number of oysters, prompting town officials to initiate the addition of the species to the town’s shellfish regulations.
Maine is on the northern end of the quahog’s range. Some towns south of Bar Harbor have already added the species to their shellfish conservation ordinance, said Christopher Petersen, a marine ecologist at College of the Atlantic and the head of the town’s Marine Resources Committee.
Most towns in the region only regulate soft-shell clams, but a census conducted earlier this month at Clark’s Cove found a substantial number of quahogs and a small but growing number of oysters.
According to his preliminary report, the quahog density, although low in any single location in the cove, appears to be spread over a large area.
“Quahogs are a species we expect to become more prevalent through climate change,” Petersen said in an interview with the Islander.
As for oysters, Petersen reported that he was impressed with the total number of the bivalves and by their size.
“Although their patchy distribution made it difficult to estimate their density, we did obtain data on the size distribution of 60 oysters distributed evenly among the three tidal heights,” he wrote in the report. About two-thirds of the oysters were about the legal-size limit, making a harvest possible.
With these findings, Petersen said his committee voted to add the two species to the town’s ordinance, giving town officials local authority over the resource beyond the state regulations. There are nine other shellfish programs in Hancock County; none have quahogs or oysters.
Petersen didn’t want shellfish harvesters to worry about a sudden crackdown, though.
“We’re going to add them to our ordinance,” Petersen said. “That doesn’t mean you regulate them.”
For quahogs, he imagined they would not institute any rules for the time being. Instead, he was more interested in learning about what goes on at the flats from the people who harvest quahogs, some of whom have been out there for decades and come from towns across the island.
“We don’t want to suddenly be excluding these people who have been doing it for 30 to 40 years,” Petersen.
State regulations would still apply to any potential diggers, but the committee will likely add limits on oysters because of how few there are.
“We think that that resource is small enough and somebody could pretty much manhandle it,” Petersen said. “It could be depleted pretty easily.”
The committee plans to work with the state Department of Marine Resources on potential language and then bring them to the Town Council for approval. The committee is also looking to make licensing easier, especially if the species are added to the ordinance, and is considering potential research on how much harvesting is going on at the flats.