It's a crisp sunny morning in early October in the Washington County town of Pembroke and Tim Sheehan walks briskly across an empty parking lot to greet me. He'd been expecting good news about clam flats in northwestern Cobscook Bay being reopened, but instead of a parking lot full of diggers delivering clams to Gulf of Maine Inc., the seafood business on Route 1 he co-owns with his wife, Amy, there's just a quiet sunlit absence.
The flats had been closed for almost a week after an historic rainfall on Sept. 30 forced Maine's Department of Marine Resources to close the entire coast to shellfish harvesting. Even though he knows the closures are a temporary and necessary precaution — until water quality testing determines there's no longer a risk of runoff pollution contaminating soft shell clams and mussels in the tidal flats — it's still hard for Sheehan to accept another blank day on his company's ledgers.
"I'm a dealer, our business depends on clams," he says.
He's not alone in that frustration on this bright Tuesday morning. By mid-morning, a dozen or more clammers had sent text messages asking Sheehan if the flats were open yet. Others had pulled up to his seafood warehouse in pickup trucks — some more than once as the sun advanced towards high noon — wondering the same thing.
"Still no word," Sheehan tells them. Weathered faces nod impassively. They've been through this drill before. A full-time clammer, Kittery or Pembroke no difference, is always waiting for something — the tides to change, DMR closures to lift, prices to go up and tiny seed clams to grow to harvestable sizes.
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