BAR HARBOR — For the four commercial clam harvesters licensed by the town and dozens of recreational clammers, enforcement of the local ordinances and state laws is crucial to protecting the resource. Harbormaster Charlie Phippen and police officers Brad O’Neill and Christopher Wharff are the designated shellfish wardens in town, having gone through specialized training.
“The state has what I think is a wonderful management scheme with clams,” Bar Harbor Marine Resources Committee chairman Chris Peterson said. “There’s an overarching policy that also allows bottom-up management.
You have to obey closed areas and 2-inch minimum and have a warden, but otherwise municipalities have a lot of leeway.”
The wardens have a lot of discretion, Peterson said, when responding to reports of someone clamming without a license, like police officers do when making a traffic stop. They may give a warning, request the clams be returned, or they may decide to charge the offender with a violation.
“Usually what happens is someone on the clam flats calls the harbormaster or police, or sometimes marine patrol comes out,” he said. “The harbormaster reports to our committee every year how many hours they’ve patrolled. The joint shellfish committee in upper Frenchman Bay hires one warden for seven towns. I’ve never seen a place where people think the warden is doing everything he can.”
The clam fishery is not closed, he said. The committee voted to make three of its four commercial licenses eligible for early renewal to save a few individuals with many years’ commercial clamming experience here from having to wait in line for several days before July 1 to make sure they got a license. “But there’s always at least one license that if somebody went out and did the conservation hours and had them documented would be eligible to stand in line,” he said. So far this year, no one has the hours accumulated to make a run at the single open license.
“We don’t have a lot of clam flats, and so we’ve kept [the total number of licenses] low,” he said. “Four is the upper limit that you can have and just have it be residential clam permits. There’s a state rule that says once you have five, you need one that’s available to nonresidents.”
Recreational harvesters are limited to a peck of clams per day. A license is available from the town clerk for $10 per day.
Commercial clammers are unrestricted except in conservation areas, including parts of the beach at Hadley Point. “Our commercial harvesters are limited to a bushel in those areas,” Peterson said. “So if it’s a really rich area and someone comes in and gets six bushels, the impact can be huge.”
Surveys of recruitment, the life stage when larval clams become baby clams on the flats, have scientists predicting fewer harvestable clams this year. “There’s going to be a little bit of a shortage of adult clams locally this year,” Peterson said, “but signs point to us being up to our necks in clams in about 2017.”