Scientists at Manomet and the Bigelow Laboratory are using “eDNA” to track the quahog population at Robinhood Cove.
GEORGETOWN, Maine – It’s no secret that the Gulf of Maine has warmed in recent years. While increasing temperature is a concern for some ocean species like lobster, it is a more suitable environment for others, like clams.
The hard-shell clam can be found along the east coast, but Manomet director of fisheries Marissa McMahan said the clams could thrive and spawn in Maine.
In 2018, Manomet and the City of Georgetown’s Shellfish Conservation Committee brought 50,000 adult clams to Robinhood Cove in hopes of creating a self-sustaining population.
On Tuesday it was time to use the environment or “eDNA” to check and see if there was an abundance of the species and if spawning had taken place.
“If this technology can actually tell us about shellfish spawning events, then it’s something we can use in coastal scale shellfish management and conservation,” McMahan said.
In partnership with the University of Maine and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, scientists collected water samples at various depths around the creek.
Principal researcher at Bigelow, Pete Countway, said the test they performed is similar to a COVID-19 test.
“We basically do PCR on the ocean,” he added. “and that will give us an estimate of Quahog’s DNA in seawater.”
When Countway and McMahan took their water samples, they collected DNA from all aquatic plants, animals and microbes. The technology they used can isolate the individual genes of the quahog.
Sample results will take a few weeks, Countway added. This is the first time that this type of technology has been used, but after a few more projects, the results could be analyzed 24 hours after the sample was taken.
The other benefit of “eDNA” is that this practice can help conservationists, scientists and fishermen manage shellfish populations statewide. The potential increase in quahog can also give aquaculturists another crop to raise and sell.
“It’s great for culinary purposes and in Maine restaurants as well,” McMahan said. “We are finding that some of these species are actually things that fishermen could diversify into and make a living from.”
The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the rest of the world’s oceans, McMahan added, so adaptation is vital for the seafood industry.