January 23, 2014
AUGUSTA — George Lemar’s nickname is Whispering George.
But Lemar, a 57-year marine worm harvester from Wiscasset, didn’t whisper on Wednesday.
“We don’t come up here and ask you guys for anything,” Lemar bellowed at the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. “All we ask is that you leave us alone!”
Lemar’s remarks were cut short. He was escorted out of the committee room as tempers flared over legislation that drew close to 100 clam diggers and worm diggers to the State House.
The bill, as originally proposed last year, would have allowed towns to prohibit digging in sections of intertidal mud flats to permit reseeding and growth of juvenile clams. Proponents said the bill was designed to combat an exploding population of invasive green crabs that’s decimating the $15.6 million soft-shell clam industry, Maine’s third-largest commercial fishery.
But Lemar and the dozens of other worm diggers who testified against the bill Wednesday suspected a sinister motive.
“This is about control over the mud,” said John Renwick, a worm digger from Birch Harbor who said the bill would let towns restrict the harvesting of not just clams, but worms, too. Renwick said that control is already in the hands of a few: clammers, some of whom have chased him off mud flats with threats of “bodily harm and even death.”