Lack of biologists worries Maine clammers
In a tumultuous year, the Maine Department of Marine Resources has seen a string of departures, including the well-publicized exit over the summer of Commissioner Norm Olsen in a rift with Gov. Paul LePage.
But behind the scenes, clammers are equally concerned with the loss of state biologists, who support the shellfish industry and are charged with biological management of the marine resources.
“That program is the only program in the shellfish industry that's funded by dedicated fees through shellfish licenses,” said Chad Coffin, president of the Maine Clammers Association. “The shellfish industry is deeply concerned that the number of biologists has dwindled from four to two, and with four they were basically stretched quite thin, now it's to the point that only some towns are getting services.”
With a scarcity of state biologists, some worry that clam flats could be closed for lack of management guidance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has pointed to budget cuts and staff reductions as problems facing the state’s Maine Shellfish Sanitation Program and its inspections.
Acting Commissioner Patrick Keliher has brought in Kohl Kanwit as the agency’s new director of public health, and Kanwit said Thursday that one of the department's goals is to beef up its roster of biologists.
“We’re working on that,” she said, noting the biological program is a “priority.”