DV-16-24 Engaging shellfish stakeholders in assessing ribbon worm damage and identifying solutions

Monique Coombs
Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association

Shellfish landings are a significant contributor to Maine’s economy: in 2015, the value of landings from clams, mussels, and oysters was more than $29 million dollars according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. This value could be even higher if we addressed threats to the resource, such as the predatory milky ribbon worm.

Ribbon worms are covered in a mucous allowing them to easily move through the mud, and are noxious and sometimes poisonous. They can stretch and swallow larger species whole, such as quahogs and soft-shell clams. Maine’s commercial shellfish harvesters have sensed an increasing presence of these worms in the muddy flats that line coastal communities from Thomaston to Scarborough. But more information is needed to understand the scope and consequences of the problem.

Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and the Brunswick Marine Resource office hosted meetings with scientists and stakeholders from coastal towns that rely on shellfish. Said Coombs, "We were able to gather information about ribbon worms in the intertidal and share that information with the University of New England. UNE has a dedicated graduate student working on ribbon worms and the hope is that the information we shared will help him learn more about the worms, if eradication is a viable solution, and other possible solutions for dealing with the infestations."

mass of pinkish colored milky ribbon wormsHere is a photo of milky ribbon worms collected from flats in Harpswell. Coombs reported, "We had two groups of harvesters (about 8 people in each group) in two locations harvesting for about two hours, and collected 400 pounds."

Sea Grant funds $2,000