BUSINESS: Company seeks to build up clamming in Maine’s poorest county – But wait until you read “The rest of the story!”

Photo / James McCarthy

Tim and Amy Sheehan, co-owners of Gulf of Maine Inc. in Pembroke, are bringing innovation to the tradition-bound clamming industry in Washington County. Their efforts appear to be paying off: They anticipate gross sales of $2 million by year’s end for their wholesale seafood business.
Clam hoes and rollers, made locally, are sold at cost at Gulf of Maine Inc.

Gulf of Maine Inc.

81 U.S. Route 1, Pembroke

Owners: Tim and Amy Sheehan

Services: Buy and sell softshell clams, periwinkles, whelks, scallops, eels/elvers and crabs. Also provides scientific marine specimens (e.g., live invertebrates, plankton and various seaweeds and fish) to aquariums, colleges and universities and teaching laboratories.

Revenues: Expects 2015 sales to exceed $2 million

Contact: 726-4620

By the numbers: Clam harvester income

Average clam-digger‘s yearly income (Dig 300 tides/year, 65 days off)

Dig 1 bushel (50 pounds)/tide:

300 tides/year X 50 pounds = 15,000 pounds/year

Average price: $2.25/lb. X 15,000 pounds = $33,750 yearly income

Dig 1.5 bushels (75 pounds)/tide:

300 tides/year X 75 pounds = 22,500 pound/year

Average price: $2.25/lb. X 22,500 pounds = $50,625 yearly income

Gulf of Maine Inc. three-year clam price averages

• 2013: $1.40/pound

• 2014: $1.75/pound

• 2015: $2.45/pound (year to date)

Types of harvesters

• Student: 10 to 50 bushels/year @ $2.25/lb. | Income: $5,000 to $6,000/year

• Summer: 50 to 100 bushels/year @ $2.25/lb. | Income: $10,000 to $12,000/year

• Full time: 300 to 500 bushels/year @ $2.25/lb. | Income: $50,000 to $60,000/year

Source: Gulf of Maine Inc.

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 size.

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