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6/24/2009 2:00:00 PM
Diggers Question Shellfish Prices
By John Maguire

Peak season for Maine's signature bivalve, the clam, starts now, but the price for the famous mollusk isn't what it used to be, according to diggers and dealers. The speculation among local diggers is they won't make $100 per bushel this year.

In past years, clam diggers have made over that amount, but this week the price has crept up to about $65 per bushel in Lincoln County. Just recently diggers were getting only $35 per bushel. A bushel equals 50 pounds.

"Back in the '70s we made more than $40 a bushel," said local shellfish harvester Bill House.

House, who is a member of the Newcastle Shellfish Committee, is disappointed in the price he and others are receiving for all their work on the clam flats. Commercial shellfish harvesters pay $115 per year for a state license and must also pay for the individual town license in which the harvester digs. House said he paid the town of Newcastle $150 for the year to harvest shellfish. Harvesters also have to do eight hours' conservation work, where they seed and maintain the flats.

He said local dealers have been telling harvesters there is an influx of clams, which is driving the price down.

"I don't understand where all these clams are coming from," House said, recalling how dealers used to back their trucks up to the shore and bid for the clams diggers brought in.

As Maine Clammers Association president Chad Coffin described it during a recent telephone interview, the clammers are eager to work after a long winter raking in very little money, if any. He said in some areas, diggers reduce harvesting to increase the price.

On the Medomak River there's no need to scale back. Area 26, as it is known by the Dept. of Marine Resources, closes after an inch of rainfall. Diggers have to wait two weeks after rainfall conditional areas are closed for testing to take place. Recent heavy rains have closed this area, but according to local diggers, the whole state is closed to shellfish harvesting.

As it stated on the Dept. of Marine Resources website ( on June 23, there is a state-wide flood closure, extending from Cape Neddick in York to the Canadian border. The flood closure is due to rainfall exceeding two inches in a 24-hour period. Simple economics say a shortage in stock will drive up the price, but every day the diggers aren't out on the flats is another day without money.

A little over a week ago, before the flats closed, the price of clams fluctuated between $35-$45 per bushel according to Waldoboro selectman Clinton Collamore.

"I'd rather be making $45 (than nothing at all)," he said, as diggers can't make even that amount if they can't dig.

Even though Wayne Elliot of Elliot Shellfish buys local, he said the Boston market affects the price he pays diggers for their Maine clams.

"Everything's open at once," Elliot said during a telephone interview last week.

Elliot said the Boston fish market is flooded with clams from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. He said clams come into the Boston market from Canada and Rhode Island provides a lot of clams, as well.

"Boston is our main market," he said. "They control the price and they can only handle so many clams."

Elliot said some dealers are hoping mud flat closures in Massachusetts will tighten up the market and increase price. The price of Maine clams drops as a person travels north, he added.

He's hoping the market will turn around, for the sake of the clam diggers as well as for the dealers.

"Sales are slightly better this week," he said. "I only hope it continues to increase."

Elliott said he eats clams, raw, on a daily basis. He said clams contain calcium and he doesn't take any medication.

"Some people ask me how I stay so healthy," said the 63-year-old shellfish dealer. "I just keep working."

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