Nathan Orff '21 and Curtis Fahey '19
Supporting Student Research — Bristol Seafood Grant Helps Protect Soft-Shell Clams
Wild dug soft-shell clams make up a large part of the local Maine seafood economy but are susceptible to many predators, including green crabs, sand worms, and milky ribbon worms. The invasive green crab, Carcinus maenas, is seen as the primary culprit behind decreasing soft-shell clam harvests.
While Maine’s coordinated trapping and removal program have reduced the green crab population in Scarborough, soft shell clams are still under threat due to the presence of milky ribbon worms in the Scarborough marsh.
As lead researcher, retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Curtis Fahey ’19, a first-year graduate student, is focusing on the impacts of native and invasive predators on the soft-shell clam industry. “Solving a problem that impacts the livelihoods of many in the Scarborough community is a daunting task because these predator/prey interactions have evolved over tens of thousands of years. However, we want to provide the community with as much information as possible to help guide future decisions that pertain to the estuary.”
In collaboration with the Scarborough Shellfish Conservation Commission, this research project also includes local clammers who bring their expertise. Nathan Orff ’20, a Marine Science undergraduate student, has been digging for clams for years in the Scarborough marsh under a student commercial license and as a lobsterman. “I grew up in Scarborough and obtained a commercial fishing license four years ago,” said Orff. “Clam harvesting in Scarborough is a longstanding, historic industry, and the impact milky ribbon worms are having on the industry is one of the reasons I decided to attend UNE. The very real problems of natural and invasive predation need to be solved in order to save this valuable commercial industry in the state. UNE is committed to research programs that are community-based and address real-life issues.”
Both Fahey and Orff are quick to point out the support given their research by Bristol Seafood, a Maine-owned business headquartered in Portland. “The support that we received from Bristol Seafood has been invaluable to the research we're doing,” says Fahey. “Through their generous support, we were able to fund an undergraduate research position, which has helped me to collect data and samples as well as navigate the estuary.” Orff echoes Fahey’s sentiments, saying “Bristol Seafood’s support has allowed me to purchase high quality tools conduct our research. More importantly, it has allowed me to take time off from clamming and has allowed for the upkeep of a skiff that we take out to do field observations on the water, on the sediments, on the clams, and allows us to collect samples to bring back to the lab.”
Jennifer Cyr, vice president of finance at Bristol Seafood, recently met with Fahey and Orff at UNE’s College of Arts and Sciences’ 19th Annual Spring Research Symposium. “Bristol Seafood was delighted to support UNE’s marine science research program and the research being done by Curtis and Nathan. The health and vitality of Maine’s seafood economy is essential to thousands of our residents and supports a longstanding Maine tradition of sustainable fisheries. As conditions in the Gulf of Maine change, we are grateful for the leadership that UNE’s marine science program provides in educating students to conduct evidence-based research to understand and protect our precious marine and coastal resources. On behalf of all of us at Bristol, congratulations to the student research teams and the faculty members who are mentoring them.”