Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A tribute to clam diggers

The "Maine lobster" is an iconic symbol of our state and an important contributor to our economy, but there is another shellfish that is also important, and to my taste no less delectable: soft shell clams, more commonly referred to by locals as "steamers".  No self-respecting "Down East" shore dinner would be complete without steamers, and I enjoy them as a meal all by themselves - a plate of clams, a bowl of melted butter and a cold bottle of beer is about all it takes to make me a happy diner.

The men (and women, I guess, but I have never known any) who harvest soft shell clams are generally a hard working lot who do  a (literally) back-breaking job, bent over at the waist and turning the mud over with a clam hoe to expose their quarry.  Their work schedule is dictated by the tides  ("as happy as a clam at high tide" is a common expression around here) and they seldom let inclement weather deter them; the real pros work year-round, going out on the mud flats even in the dead of winter when the conditions can be pretty extreme.

Clam diggers not only make an important contribution to the Maine economy but a few years ago they organized themselves as The Maine Clammers Association and became an effective force in advocating for sound environmental policies and industry management practices to protect the resource and the habitat that sustains it.  They have worked effectively with the state legislature to pass reasonable regulations and with local wardens to optimize local controls.  It turns out that what's good for the clammers is generally good for the environment so it's a win-win situation when they advocate for change to improve their own circumstances.

Unfortunately clammers, unlike lobstermen,  have never received much recognition for their contributions to the economy and the environment.  When lobster prices are down, as they are this summer, due to a glut in supply it's all over the headlines, with everybody from the Governor on down calling for action to protect the industry (a political aside:  Linda Bean, a prominent Tea Party supporter and business woman with a big stake in the lobster industry, was recently quoted as saying, "I'm no protectionist, but we need protection [from Canadian processors who are buying Maine lobster at bargain basement prices]" - you just have to love the irony).  But when Red Tide or other conditions cause the clam flats to close it barely gets a mention in the media. 

So this weekend when there was mention of clam diggers in the only section of the newspaper that is important to me (that would be the comics), I took notice.  And I was so happy to see it and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share it here.  So without further ado, here is a tribute to clam diggers everywhere as published in Chad Carpenter's Tundra (copyright Tundra 2012).  I don't know who the bearded guy on the left is, but I'm pretty sure the other two are Chad Coffin (president of the MCA) and Earl Rowe, two clammers I know from the hardware store.

OK, maybe that's not the image I should leave you with so here's a pretty good video to give you and idea of how hard - an rewarding - a clammer's life can be:

But you have to admit, that comic strip is pretty cool.


  1. Great Blog!

    1. Since that comment comes from The Wild Clammer himself I'll take it as a high compliment.