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Abstract

Since the invasive European green crab was first detected in the Gulf of Maine over one hundred years ago, its population has dramatically increased, resulting in devastating consequences. This predatory species is remarkably resilient and voracious, feeding on hard- and soft-shell clams, blue mussels, and other bivalve shellfish. There are even reports that the green crab poses a threat to Maine’s most lucrative fishery – the lobster. As the green crab makes its nests in the intertidal zone and subtidal habitats, it destroys native resources such as eelgrass beds and mudflats. Maine’s economy relies heavily on its well-known fishing industry – not only as a draw for tourists, but also for Mainers who make their living off the sea. The direst predictions estimate that the clamming industry, Maine’s third most profitable fishery, will be completely decimated within two years. Dr. Brian Beal, a marine ecologist from the University of Maine, posed it simply: “How do you have a clambake without any clams?” Unfortunately, it is impossible to eradicate green crabs. Clam fishermen have begun evolving from a hunter and gatherer mindset to a farming mindset. The methods of fencing, netting, trapping, or a combination thereof have proven successful at mitigating the effects of green crab predation on soft-shell clams. Although it is not possible to net or fence the thousands of miles of Maine’s coastline, clammers can net or fence small plots to save their industry. However, one obstacle stands in their way: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting process. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) is the federal agency responsible for regulating the nation’s navigable waters. Any structure that is deemed an obstruction to navigation is unlawful without a permit. Clammers claim that the Corps is inflexible in its issuance of fencing permits, and dispute claims that netting is an obstruction to navigation. If the clamming industry turns to a farming model, then these differences in opinion regarding permitting requirements will come to a head. Part I of this paper explains the origin and effects of the European Green Crab on the soft-shell clam industry. Part II discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s regulatory framework. Finally, Part III attempts to reconcile the concerns of clammers and the authority of the Corps.

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