THAT’S A LOT OF CLAMS
BY DERWIN GOWAN
24 SEPT 2013
ST. GEORGE – What Dan Cunningham calls the world’s oldest fishery has a solid future in southwest New Brunswick, he said Thursday.
The vice-president of the Charlotte County Clam Harvesters Co-operative spoke in an interview during the noon break at the Southwest New Brunswick Soft-shell Clam Workshop; which he and Eastern Charlotte Waterways executive director Donald Killorn co-chaired at Magaguadavic Place in St. George.
Government, industry and academic speakers addressed threats including pollution, urbanization climate change, paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and invasive species, while others talked about ways to grow more clams, Mya arenaria, and regulate the industry to guarantee food safety.
The success opening Oak Bay to clamming, closed for decades due to pollution, shows the potential, Cunningham said. The clam flats at Oak Bay, in the St. Croix estuary below St. Stephen, stayed closed years after sewage and other pollution was cleaned up because the federal government did not want to cover the cost of testing to make sure the shellfish were safe to eat.
Last winter the co-op diverted several thousand dollars of dues that the 110 current active members paid to cover the cost of routine testing in Oak Bay and some other areas.
The clams that co-op members dug in two square kilometres at Oak Bay in two-and-a-half months fetched about half a million dollars wholesale.
“That’s a lot of clams,” Cunningham said. He figures they spun off $3 to $4 million in the local economy.
Clams are not a big fishery compared to lobster, for example, but this bivalve does generate income for 250 Charlotte County families in different aspects of the industry, Cunningham said. It provides important seasonal income, speakers said in their workshop presentations. The industry must “create a balance with the resource,” Cunningham said in the interview.
The co-op now manages four areas including Pocologan, Digdeguash Harbour and Boacabec River along with Oak Bay, covering testing to make sure the clams are safe to put on the market.
In one workshop presentation Dorothy Easy, production manager at Jellett Rapid Testing Ltd. in Nova Scotia, demonstrated the field testing kit her company makes.
Clam harvesters could use the kit for their own peace of mind, Cunningham said. If the harvester has any doubt, he or she could test clams before starting to dig, rather than lose a day’s work when someone later declares them unsafe.
Once a food product is declared unsafe it must be destroyed, he said in the interview.”That’s a product that doesn’t get to reproduce.” The industry supports rules governing opening and closing clam flats because of sewage and other pollution, as well as natural things such as PSP, Cunningham said.
The aboriginal people learned in the millennia before Europeans arrived not to eat clams when PSP, sometimes called”red tide,”affected these shellfish.
The modern era of testing for PSP began in 1943 when the federal government wanted to can clams and mussels to meet wartime need, Jennifer Martin, a biologist at the St. Andrews Biological Station, explained in her presentation.
Phytoplankton of the genus Alexandrium causes PSP. The Bay of Fundy has its own species, Alexandrium fundyense .
These creatures, only 0.03mm in diameter, exist in the bay at all times but occasionally bloom and infect clams and other sea life. Wind, tide, current, water temperature, fog and other factors seem to affect it but scientists do not completely understand it, Martin said.
Federal law prevents harvesting of clams in the Bay of Fundy except the back-breaking old-fashioned way with hand-held tools, different speakers noted.
Clam harvesters digging in the mud at low tide are the first to note many changes in the marine environment, several speakers said.
Abby Pond, executive director of the St. Croix International Waterway Commission, encouraged harvesters to speak up at organizations such as the new regional service commissions on urban development infringing on the flats from which they draw their livings.