copyright 2000-2017 MB
Our family has been harvesting bloodworms since 1950. Bloodworms are harvested with a metal hoe at low water in the mud flats which extend out in the ocean for a long ways. When worming started the digger could harvest (dig) 4000 worms a tide. 20 years ago they were harvesting 2000 worms a tide. Now they are harvesting 1000 worms a tide. Many places are getting over harvested and the State of Maine has never closed any mud flats to try to save what is left of the bloodworms. They have many times closed down mud flats that have been over dug for clams. The mud flats that need to be shut down are where the diggers harvest only baby bloodworms, most of the worms are no bigger than 3 inches. The State of Maine has placed a 2” minimum on the size of a clam that can be harvested. There should be a size limit of 4" on the bloodworms so that the worm has a chance to grow. We are trying to pay a higher price for a quality worm, but the worm buyers in our area keep going up to meet our price to keep their diggers. They also tell their diggers to harvest everything including 1” bloodworms (the hook is bigger, most die in shipping because they are so small). The diggers harvesting undersized worms will harvest on an average 800 worms, and a digger harvesting select (large) worms will dig 600 worms each tide.
The worm digger is getting 250 to 500 less worms per tide opposed to last year. We are hoping to bring some conclusion to this situation because this has been going on for many years. The buyers pay the same price for a 1” worm as for a 12” worm. The buyers & harvesters greed will ruin this industry by over buying and over digging.The next generation of harvesters will have no bloodworms to harvest. The largest wholesalers of bloodworms do not live in the State of Maine
and they do not care if the bloodworms are over harvested. The amount of worms a digger can harvest has gone down 75% since they first started harvesting bloodworms. The situation is just going to get worse until something is done about the over harvesting of the BLOODWORM! 2002
The Story of the Blood Worm (Glycera di Branchiata)
Worm Harvesting Suggestions
(from Harvesters and Buyers at Maine Bait (mainebait.com):
1. Weight Limit- 125 bloodworms should weigh 1 lb.
This should be the way to purchase worms because of the overharvesting
of the undersized bloodworm. A tray of 125 worms should be randomly
selected from the harvester and counted first by the buyer and then weighed.
Worms should also have 1 cup of salt water (from the buyer) to place in the
trays and then drained before weighing. Salt water should be tested with a
hydrometer. Salt water is tested at 70 degrees and should read 1.025
2. Open Sunday harvesting of worms, because of bad weather and
days the buyers shut off harvesters during the week.
3. Close harvesting of worms in January and February.
This should help in the recovery of the tidal flats from Spring, Summer and
4. Divide the State of Maine into 2 zones.
The Penobscot River should be the boundary line.
This division would then entail the harvester to only harvest worms in the
zone where he/she lives. This should prevent harvesters from harvesting
small worms from the eastern zone and then seeding the worms in the
5. Mussel draggers should have a limit on the distance they can drag the
ocean floor. Once the tidal flats have been dragged there is no worms
left to harvest.
6. Lobster fisherman should not be able to purchase a worm license,
because a worm harvester can not purchase a lobster license.
7. Clam harvesters should not be able to purchase a worm license because
not all worm harvesters live in a coastal town where they could
purchase a clam license.
8. Worm seeding program for a trial area on the tidal flats. This tidal flat
should be a closed area for harvesting worms. If needed there should be a
surcharge on the worm licenses to help fund this project.
9. No harvesting spawning bloodworms (black in color) or
sandworms (green in color).
10. Everyone should purchase a diggers license, no more harvesting 125
worms without a license.
11. A pamphlet should be mailed to all diggers on how to care for their worms
by using a hydrometer to test the salt water that a harvester uses to wash
Worm shortage a bloody mess
Outdoors: With the supply of bloodworms in decline, anglers are paying dearly for the versatile bait, if they can find some for sale.
By Candus Thomson Sun Staff
Originally published July 29, 2001
Catching fish this summer isn't half as hard as snagging one of Maryland's top saltwater baits - the lowly bloodworm. Sought by rich international anglers, held hostage by striking worm diggers, and baked alive by an unusually brutal New England sun, bloodworms are making themselves scarce.Prices in bait-and-tackle shops have risen anywhere from three to five times in the past two months - if merchants have any to sell. Between Tuesday and Thursday, several area bait shops saw wholesale prices jump $5 for a container of 250 worms. That has driven the price of a dozen worms from $4.50 at the beginning of last year's fishing season to as much as $7 now. "We've lost control," says Dee Taylor at T. G. Tochterman & Sons in Fells Point. "Last year, we thought it had peaked but, boy, were we wrong." Anglers who usually buy six or seven dozen boxes for a weekend of fishing are putting theirwallets back in their pockets, "and I'm proud of them," Taylor says. Higher prices haven't translated into higher quality, either. Bait shops complain of shipments that include undersized, battered and dead worms. "They're not big and plump," says Sue Foster of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City, whose customers neverthless snapped up 100 dozen last week in a couple of hours. "But you take what you can get, and you're glad to have them." At the Fishin' Shop on Pulaski Highway, two customers cleaned out the stock of 14 dozen worms in minutes. "The prices are sky high, but the diehards won't use anything else," says Bill Horstmann. Bloodworms became popular with anglers by combining the versatility and low cost of a utility infielder with the performance of a star outfielder. They catch everything from white perch torockfish. But the worms are as icky as they sound. Running 12-15 inches long with transparent skin, the Glycera dibranchiata squirts red liquid and has nasty poisonous chompers protruding from its snout that can deliver something akin to a bee sting. Home for bloodworms are the tidal flats of Maine and Nova Scotia. Most of the mid-Atlantic worms come from Maine, where 1,000 state-licensed diggers scratch in the mud with hoes at low tide to find them. It's a short season, peaking in July and August. Worm digging is backbreaking work, and when the temperatures are high, as they have been recently, the worms make things tougher by burrowing deeper to stay cool. Diggers, who pay $43 for a yearly license, are independent contractors. Many pick blueberries, make Christmas wreaths or process lobster in other seasons. To get top dollar, they periodically stage work stoppages against the two dozen bait houses licensed by Maine. "They've gotten five raises this year, and now they're getting 20 cents a worm," says an owner of the 56-year-old Worm Co. "They seem to have forgotten that people don't have to fish, [that] they fish for recreation." But the worm co owner and others worry that the problem may be more serious than a simple labor dispute. Foreign anglers and aquaculture businesses are demanding bloodworms and bidding up the prices. The demand was heightened when a virus attacked a species of worm that lives in Central America, forcing fish farms to substitute bloodworms. The seller's market has attracted a new wave of diggers, who want to cash in quickly. "Everything's being spread too thin," says Peter Thayer, a scientist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources. "There's worry that the market could be ruined." Agency statistics show bloodworm harvests dropping from a high of 37 million in 1970 to 21 million in 1998. "A digger hopes to get 1,000 worms a day to be profitable, but right now it'shard to get 500," says Thayer. Bloodworms usually arrive in Maryland from Maine aboard a USAirways flight, packed with seaweed in cardboard boxes, 250 to a box. The worms require refrigeration to survive, and sometimes the packages get bumped from flights with disastrous results. "They bite each other and ... die. It's a bloody mess when you open the case," says Taylor. What's a poor angler to do? Alternatives include sea clam tongues, sandworms (another Maine product) and a critter right out of a grade-B horror movie, the Vietnamese nuclear worm. Averaging 2 feet, but growing as long as 5 feet, the nuclear worm has been distributed to bait shops in the mid-Atlantic. "They look like snakes with pinchers," says Foster, who sells them in her Ocean City shop. "But they don't require refrigeration and have a long shelf life, and you cut them up as you need them. My customers seem to like them." It may turn out that nuclear worms are good for fishing but bad for fish. In a 1999 report to the federal Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist based in Annapolis warned that the nuclear worm was being introduced without knowing if it could harm native marine life. "There are all kinds of nasty diseases in Southeast Asia that I don't want to be exposed to," says Mark Sherfy, now with the U.S. Geological Survey in North Dakota. "One of the unanswered questions is, 'Now that you've bought yourself a 5-foot worm, what else have you bought?' " In Maine, bait-house owners and state officials are optimistic that the multi-million dollar bloodworm industry will rebound when the new diggers get discouraged, easing pressure on the tidal flats. "You have to hope this is a cycle," says Thayer. "This was supposed to be a good spawning year,so maybe they'll come back in a couple of years."
Copyright © 2001
University of Maine at Orono Library
Biological Report 82(11.80)
TR EL-82-4 April 1988
Species Profiles: Life Histories and Environmental Requirements
of Coastal Fishes and Invertebrates (North Atlantic)
Sandworms and Bloodworms
Information Transfer Specialist National Wetlands Research Center
US Fish and Wildlife Service NASA-Slidell Computer Complex
Slidell, LA 70458
Reason for Inclusion Series
Baitworms (bloodworms and sandworms) are an important fishery in the Northeastern United States and Nova Scotia (MacPhail 1954; Klawe and Dickie 1957; Dow and Creaser 1970; Schroeder 1978). Baitworms from the fourth largest fishery in Maine, trailing only lobster, clams, and total finfish. In the past 30 years, professional bait-diggers have removed nearly one billion bloodworms (Dow 1978). Over 90% of the bloodworms in the United States come from Maine with the rmainder from Nova Scotia (7%) and Massachusetts (2%). Recent evidence, based on sampling of the worm sizes of commercial landing, indicates that 2-year old worms, rather than the larger 3 year old worms, are presently being harvested, suggesting that the populations are being over-harvested (Dow 1978; but see Schroeder (1978) for an alternative interpretation of data). Overharvesting of mudflats in two Maine counties has eliminated bloodworms (Anonymous 1979). Genetic evidence also indicates that some populations are being overharvested (Vatias and Bristow 1985). Dow (1978) believes the only long-term solution to maintaining sufficient standing stock to support present intensities of harvesting is to culture worms under controlled environmental conditions. Creaser et al. (1983) presented models for the determination of Maximum Sustainable Yield and Optimal Sustainable Yield. The imposition of size-limits has been suggested (Saft 1978). Confouning attempts at managing stocks is an inverse correlation between bloodworm production and mean annual temperture; this relationship may explain some of the temporal variance in bloodworms densities (Dow 1978).
Maine bloodworm and sandworm fishery, USA Creaser et al. 1983 describe the history of the development of this bait worm fishery, possibly the best documented in the world, and worm habitats, digging methods, packing media, and markets. Much of the following information was taken from this document and will, therefore, be slightly out of date. Information on regulations and landings is current. The first recorded commercial worm fishery on the US Atlantic coast was taking place on Long Island, New York State, by the early 1920s, supplying bait to party boats. Sandworms Nereis virens were the first species taken, but bloodworms Glycera dibranchiata were soon being harvested as well. The fishery had extended to several other states by the 1930s, but was still not meeting market demand. Possible reasons for this lack of supply included several familiar arguments: an initial lack of abundance and complaints from landowners objecting to digging in their beaches; overdigging and depletion of known stocks; increased demand in sports fisheries; a decline due to increased pollution from heated effluent discharge and toxic heavy metals; and a demise in the fishery due to increasing water temperatures. Abundant worm resources were found in Maine in 1933, and by 1937 the industry was sufficiently well-established for the Maine Legislature to institute ‘control’ legislature. Nearly 40 laws were passed between 1937 and 1955, prohibiting non-residents from digging worms within the boundaries of various municipalities. All were repealed in 1955, when it was discovered that they were motivated by property owners wishing to prevent trespass rather than conserve stocks. By this stage a worm fishery was also established in Canada and importing worms to the USA. The State of Maine Department of Marine Resources licenses worm diggers and worm dealers. Only individual residents are eligible for a worm digging licence, which costs US $ 43. All revenues from these licences are paid into the Marine Worm Fund (this generates about US $ 46,000 annually and is used to carry out research related to worms, the industry, its restoration,development and conservation). It is unlawful to take or possess more than 125 worms in a day without holding either a marine worm digger’s licence or a marine worm dealer’s licence. Additionally, marine worms may only be taken by ‘devices or instruments operated solely by hand power’, and it is illegal to dig worms commercially on Sundays. Enforcement of these and (other fisheries) rules and regulations is limited by the capacity of the 47 State Marine Patrol Officers to patrol 3,500 miles of coastline, and identification of unlicensed commercial diggers complicated by the existence of the 125 marine worm personal bag limit. Each marine worm dealer is required by legislation to submit monthly reports (by the tenth day of the following month) of their marine worm purchases and sales. These are completed on standard Department of Marine Resources forms. They must contain purchase details (dates of each purchase of worms, the quantity purchased, the name of individual from whom the worms were purchased and information whether that person is a marine worm dealer); and sales information(dates, quantities of worms sold and name of person to whom sold). No data exist providing information on exports. The Maine worm fishery was one of the top five commercial fisheries (landed value) in the late 1970s, when fewer than 1,200 licensed diggers landed worms worth over US $ 1 million. More recent landings data are provided below. Landings of bloodworms Glycera dibranchiata from Maine, 1980-1997 (data provided in personal communication from National Marine Fisheries Service Fisheries Statistics & Economics Division – NMFS web site).
fromWinter MIR 2000
Collections: Worms’ Eye View
The people of rural Maine are famously ingenious at making a full-time living from part-time jobs. A breadwinner may work on a lobster boat in June, pick blueberries in August and make balsam wreaths in November. In those charming examples the world sees an idealized Maine. The reality of making your living in such a piecemeal manner is less charming. It's hard. Take marine-worm digging, one of the many Maine occupations represented in NHF's collections. Worm digging lacks the tourism appeal of blueberries and lobster, but it shares with those products backbreaking work and concerns about the health of the resource. Why would anyone buy bloodworms, alluringly named for their color, and sandworms, known for their many legs? They're great bait for sea fishing, that's why. Maine is so important a source for marine worms that Ivan Flye supplied Maine to buyers as far away as Italy and southern California. He shipped 13 million worms in his best year. Flye, of Damariscotta, finished his film Maine Marine Worm Industry in 1942. He started as a digger in 1938 and retired in 1985 as one of the state's major shippers. IFlye also ran a photography business in the town of Newcastle until 1986. In 1941, he decided to make a film about worm-digging. Why? "Because I was digging 'em," he says. The Digger's Day Flye's 13-minute documentary examines, step-by-step, a business that could pay a digger $100 a week from March to December, as an intertitle states. The film generates a fascination out of proportion to its homely subject, thanks to Flye's solid reporting, humor and fine eye. Flye leaves no doubt about the difficulty of the work. We see the workers bent over and digging in the muck, harvesting sacks of sea grass for packing material, counting worms by hand for shipping. But he has a light touch ("Mud is washed from worms–also from digger," one intertitle observes). In addition, shooting on Kodachrome that retains plenty of punch, Flye captures striking images, such as the stark shot of the diggers' feet as they cross a railroad trestle to work. In his renderings of the Sheepscot River estuary, he suggests that there was enough beauty in the digger's day to offer at least some relief from hours in the mud. He became as involved in video in the 1980s as he had been in photography. And he hopes someday to find someone to edit together the countless hours of film and video that he has amassed and that he donated to NHF in 1992. New Research Unlikely Flye is convinced that worm-digging is in big trouble. "It's getting seriously depleted," he says. "And also, the price of the worms is so high that people can't afford to fish." Maine's 1,000 or so diggers might agree with his first point. Mussel draggers who work the intertidal zones, they say, are ruining worm habitat. The diggers have petitioned the state for an end to intertidal dragging. But the state, at this point, has little current research to bring to the dispute, even though the industry generated more than $3.35 million in diggers' gross earnings in 1998. Ted Creaser, a scientist for the Department of Marine Resources, confirms that marine worm landings have declined. Bloodworms hit their peak in 1970, with 37 million worms landed; sandworms in 1963, at more than 32 million. The 1998 landings were more than 21 million for bloodworms and nearly 7 million for sandworms. "We're not certain what that means," Creaser says. He explains that it's easily possible mussel dragging hurts worm habitat The layer of ooze the draggers scrape away provides food for all worms and habitat for juvenile worms. In addition, the dragging seals off burrow entrances though which water circulated, bearing nutrients and oxygen. Creaser believes that intertidal dragging should somehow be controlled to better protect that habitat. Yet, he adds, it is not a fatal threat. Worms living out past the intertidal zone form a "biological reserve" that would forestall a serious depletion of the resource. But at bottom, so to speak, no one really knows what's happening with either the resource or the industry. Creaser speculates that under-reporting of worm landings distorts the statistical picture. And he agrees with Flye on one point: "From all I can detect," he says, diggers are "pricing themselves out of existence." The most recent worm data are from 1970, at the end of Creaser's five-year study. Clearly, new research is needed to pin down impacts on the resource, from draggers and other potential threats. But at this point, given limited funds and marine worms' lowly spot on the priority list, a new research effort doesn't seem likely. During his study, incidentally, Creaser made his own film about marine worms, a 30-minute piece now stored in the department's archives. Especially in view of the current situation, it's good to know these films exist. Flye’ s Maine Marine Worm Industry is important to NHF’s record of the too-often overlooked experience of New England people—a record made by those who know the life intimately.As an angler, Flye was a sandworm man. "They made a more attractive bait than bloodworms, because they were larger and they would flutter in the water," he says. And he ought to know. "I had a big choice of worms," he says.
We wanted to include some more information about the bloodworms.
Our diggers are now selling their worms to other buyers.
A large percentage of bait dealers are buying 1" bloodworms. As we have
stated before 125 worms should weigh 1 lb., diggers are selling worms
that weigh between 8 oz and 12 oz for 125 worms. A harvester digging a
small (1")worm digs 800 to 1200 a tide, and a harvester digging 1 lb-
125 worms are digging 200 to 400 worms a tide. About 90% of the diggers
are taking every bloodworm out of the tidal flats. The harvesting of
small worms continues all during the yea. We have also raised our
price on large bloodworms and the other buyers raised their prices, and
they buy a small (1")worm for the same price as the large worm. We have
talked to buyers (bait retail stores) in NY, NJ, MD, VA & NC and they
have stated that they are tried of buying 1" worms. They say that over
50% of the small worms die in shipping and the other 50% does not fit
on a hook. They also state that the bait dealers in Maine say that
there is only small bloodworms, take it or leave it. They have called
other buyers in Maine and they will not sell them worms because they
only sell to wholesalers in their area. We are hoping you will ask for
a special Legislative Bill Session to vote on a set of rules to save
the bloodworm from being placed on the
Maine's Endangered Species List.
Thank you for your time on this proposal,
Bulletin No. 115
Biology of the bloodworm
Table II- Maine landings of bloodworms (pounds of worms). Taken
from "Maine landings, Annual Summaries for 1945-1954", compiled by
United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Maine Department Of
Sea and Shore Fisheries (44 bloodworms weigh 1 pound).
Growth rate appears to be most rapid during the third year and to
decrease thereafter towards a maximum size of about
35 centimeters (14 in.)
1 year- 5 centimeters
2 years- 15 centimeters
3 years- 25 centimeters
4 years- 32 centimeters
Length-frequency distribution of a sample of bloodworms dug by the
senior author at Goose Bay in June 1953 and culled by a buyer for
commercial sizes. He selected worms which averaged greater than
20 centimeters (8 in.) in length.
The Population Genetics and Ecology of the Bloodworm
by Glen A. Bristow
Requirements for the degree of Master of Science (in Zoology)
The Graduate School University of Maine at Orono August 1983
Several implications for resource management are implicit from this study:
1) overharvesting is the major threat to the continued economic usage of bloodworms.
2) individual estuarine populations comprise the working units for any conservation or management efforts.
3) this study provides only a baseline for effective, prospective management.
4) each estuarine system that supports harvestable quantities of Glycera dibranchiata should be investigated as an ecological unit including population and hydrographic studies.
5) only state levels will provide a proper milieu for the continuation of the marine baitworms industry. Clearly, there is need for a more coordinated approach to management based on comprehensive genetic and ecological studies of the type begun here.
I have had more complaints today from worm diggers about the several buyers calling them and telling them you can clean the mud, we are buying every worm you can find, there is no such thing as a cull.
Canada's Set of Rules for Bloodworms:
1. 125 worms will weigh 1 lb and a bloodworm is to be 3" relaxed (not stretched).
2. 5 Zones have been designated for harvesting. Using 5 new zones the next year.
3. Harvesting is closed from May 15 to June 15 because the bloodworms are spawning.
4. Hydrometer will be needed to test the salt water when the diggers clean their worms. 1.020-1.025 specific gravity.
Thank you again for all your help,
I am faxing you some information on shipping with oxygen and salt water, and a few complaint letters. I have several more complaint letters from bait store owners & I will fax them to you later today. I have spoke to several diggers and they say they are digging little bloodworms because everyone else is digging little bloodworms and making more money. Some diggers state that they will sell to the buyer who buys the most small bloodworms. I had a digger say that he had 400 bloodworms and they weighed 1 lb. total. I have also had a digger bring in 600 small bloodworms last year and bloodworms weighed 1 lb., the 600 bloodworms where all placed back in the tidal flats. They have also said that most buyers do not look at the bloodworms before they purchase the bloodworms. I have had more complaint phone calls from bait store owners about undersized bloodworms.
They are saying that they are paying a high price for 250 bloodworms and half of the bloodworms are dead and the other half of the bloodworms are very small (1”-3”). They state that they are loosing money but want to keep bloodworms in stock because this brings in business. We have lost all of our original harvesters (including 2 family members) which have been with us for 2 years. They have told us they are selling bloodworms to another buyer because they are making twice the money digging 1” and larger bloodworms.
The reason why we are shipping in salt water is because bloodworms live in salt water and/or mud not seaweed. Seaweed dries out and then the seaweed is taking the water out of the bloodworm. I have done experiments and a bloodworm in seaweed will only last for 4 to 5 days, and a bloodoworm will last 2 to 3 weeks in salt water (changing the salt water every day). Bait dealers do not want to change because this would mean less in sales and because the bloodworm will live longer and also the bait store buyer will not re-order as often.
We are now shipping with salt water and the worms are shipping great!
The worms will still need the water changed on a daily basis.
How to make Salt Water to change the water in the Bloodworms and Sandworms
What you will need:
Hydrometer (Specific Gravity Meter)
Instant Ocean Salt (Synthetic Sea Salt)
These can be purchased at a pet store.
Use water that you buy unless you test your water first
(no water with chlorine can be used) and purify your water if needed.
Hydrometer should read around 1.022 - 1.024 (specific gravity)
After you have added your salt you can place your water in the refrigerator.
Always test your water on just a few worms and wait awhile.
Change your water in your worms every 12 - 24 hours.
We are quality bait company from Maine.
We have been in business for many years
(family owned- 3 generations).
If you have any questions please e-mail.
We look forward in hearing from you,
“There are two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle."
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Baby Bloodworms are also a Miracle!
Enough Baby Bloodworm Killing!
Guidelines for managing the collection of bait and other shoreline animals within UK European
Taxonomy Status & Life History Magement Practices Species bloodworm- August 26, 1996
page 2 & 8
Land -based activities and their physical impacts on marine habitats of the Gulf of Maine
People and the coast: Tourism and Recreation Activities
e-mail from Diane (customer) to Maine Bait.com- 4/3/03
I am writing on behalf of my father. He is interested in ordering bloodworms. Can you please tell me if I was to order, how do I calculate the shipping charges? What is the delivery time? (They will be delivered live and in good condition correct?) Is there a minimum order required? It seems you are selling them a dozen at time. Are there discounts for quanity? Can you guarantee minimum two three inch baits from every worm?
Thank you for the information,
I had a digger come in and he had 1250 bloodworms and I culled him 1000 bloodworms because they were all 1" to 2". We have raised our price again for a large bloodworm and the other buyers have raised their price last week (7/1/02) for a small bloodworm. I am hoping that soon there will be some sort of size or weight regulation placed on the bloodworm before the diggers harvest all the small bloodworms and there will not be any worms left for future generations. We are still shipping in salt water and oxygen and the worms are shipping great with no dead worms. The consumer now understands that selling the worms in salt water is keeping the worm healthier and alive longer, and by not throwing the seaweed back into the ocean this is also better for the environment. Please email or call if you have any questions. Thank you for your time,
Robin Maine Bait
Making Them Squirm
Down East diggers fear farm-raised worms are threatening their livelihood -
Our thoughts on the the sandworm farm is that this should be for seeding our tidal flats and only our sandworms should be raised. Seabait is taking away from our market because we have recently talked to many shrimp farms and they say we are not beating Seabait's price.
We also wanted to let you know that Seabait states-
Anglers can also be sure that by using Seabait ragworm they are taking an important step towards reducing the unacceptable environmental damage caused by bait digging.
If they are going to work with the digger we do not think that this statement is appropriate. They are actual saying they are trying to reduce the harvesters.
They also state the shrimp farms is their biggest market-
Seabait's biggest market is in the Americas where large quantities of frozen product is used inshrimp maturation laboratories as a valuable part of the broodstock diet.
This would be our largest market if we could compete with their prices.
Thanks again for your time,
Emailed to Marine Resources: MD, VA, NY, NJ, NC, DE & PA.
We are writing you to tell you that we have been shipping bloodworms and sandworms in salt water. The worms live 2 to 3 weeks in salt water and they only live 4 to 5 days in seaweed. We also understand that shipping with wormweed transports bioinvasives. We are hoping that this information will help your state in making a decision about accepting bloodworms and sandworms shipped with wormweed from Maine.
Thank you for your time,
Maine's forgotten fisheries:
How a lack of scientific understanding and regulations maybe putting baitworms at risk.
By Michael Crocker
They’re certainly not the most glamorous of Maine’s marine resources, but last year over $7.9 million worth of baitworms were harvested, making bloodworms and sandworms the state’s fourth-most-valuable fishery-more lucrative even than cod or crab, scallops or sea urchins.
However, some worm watchers are concerned that a lack of regulations and scientific understanding of the creatures is leading to a decline that, if ignored, could end in a collapse.
“Not only am I worried that there won’t be any worms left for my children; the way things are going, I’m worried that there won’t be any worms left for my own business,” said Robin Brooks, whose family has been involved in the harvesting and selling of baitworms for over 50 years. “We just don’t know enough about worms to continue harvesting them virtually unrestricted.”
Today, there are 1000 or so licensed diggers of baitworms in Maine and, for many, the practice is an important component to a collection of agricultural jobs that may also include picking blueberries in the late summer and splitting fire wood in the fall.
But scientists say that because most of the state’s research funding goes to study more well known species, like lobster and cod, little attention is paid to the biology of marine worms or to the social and economic impacts of the fishery.
Sandworms (Nereis virens) and bloodworms (Glycera dibranchiata) are the two species of commercially valuable baitworms in Maine, which are sold primarily for use in recreational fishing.
Brooks is most concerned about the health of bloodworms-named for their red coloring-that she said are being over harvested in many areas and at too small a size.
“Some diggers are harvesting worms that are only one-inch long, that’s smaller than a lot of the hooks they’re baited on. Today, many dealers-mostly from out-of-state-pay the same price for a one-inch worm as they will for a 12-inch worm and, as a result, there is no incentive to protect worms before they’ve had a chance to spawn,” said Brooks.
“Unfortunately, it’s a situation where the characteristics of the fishery are changing even before we even understand the biological characteristics of the resource,” said Les Watling, a marine scientist at the University of Maine.
To dig bloodworms a hoe with nine-inch metal tines attached to a wooden handle is used. The labor can be backbreaking with diggers spending up to five or six hours at a time hunched over in knee-high mud. They begin by collecting worms high on a mudflat and follow the receding tide with a meter-wide trench; then reverse direction when the sea returns.
Bloodworms are found in intertidal zones bordering brackish waters and estuaries from Nova Scotia to Florida. In Maine, the Sheepscot Estuary near Wiscasset is an example of productive worm habitat.
The annelids (similar to earthworms and leeches) are thought to be predators, capable of excreting a neurotoxin through their needle-like proboscis into prey, which may include other worms and small crustaceans. Many a wormer has known the discomfort that accompanies a bloodworm bite.
The baitworm fisheries in Maine are largely unregulated. State residents are eligible for a license, which cost $43 and raise around $46,000 annually to fund worm-related research. And worms may only be harvested with “devices or instruments operated solely by hand power,” according to the regulatory bylaw. Additionally, digging is prohibited on Sundays.
A 1991 review of the baitworm fishery by Bets Brown, a biologist at Colby College, found that bloodworm landings were at a maximum between 1960 and 1976, ranging between 140,000 and 215,000 lbs. landed annually. A sharp decline began in the late 1970s with landings ranging between 102,000 lbs. in 1988 and 168,000 lbs. in 1982.
And Brooks said that in eastern Maine things are only getting worse.
“About 20 years ago, you could harvest 2000 worms a tide, now we’re getting, at best, 1000 worms a tide. Just this past year we’ve seen landings decrease between 250 and 500 worms a tide,” she said.
Possible explanations for the decline range from the natural cycles of intertidal ecology to over harvesting to mussel dragging, where heavy iron baskets (similar to scallop drags) are pulled across mudflats to scoop up colonies of mussels. Critics argue that the practice damages habitat by scrapping away nutrients and sealing off the burrows worms need for food and oxygen.
But scientists, at least for now, have little data to weigh in on the debate.
Peter Thayer, a biologist for Maine’s Department of Marine Resources who now specializes in marine worms, confirms that there has been a decline of worm landings, but said without scientific data to corroborate the apparent trend it amounts to little more than anecdotal evidence.
“Statistics suggest that there has been a decline in the number of worms and we have received a number of complaints from out-of-state dealers saying that the worms they’ve been getting are much too small. But, without any scientific evidence, we can’t say, with any certainty, what the cause is-or really even if a decline has occurred,” said Thayer.
Thayer added that mussel draggers and wormers recently reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” to keep drags out of parts of mudflats near the Sheepscot River and farther east, but the unofficial truce has since fallen by the wayside.
This September, Tom Atherton, a graduate student from the University of Maine, who is also a worm digger, will begin the first comprehensive study of Maine’s baitworm fishery since the early 1980s.
And for Brooks, who is also the proprietor of Maine Bait, a company that sells baitworms across the country, the forthcoming research is long overdue.
“Both in the amount of money it generates and for the way-of-life it supports, worming is an important part of Maine’s fisheries. If we’re not careful greed is going to ruin this fishery,” she said.
“From a research perspective-particularly for harvesters and scientists working together-this area is wide-open; much work needs to be done,” Brown added.
Michael Crocker is the editor of Collaborations-a report on marine research done cooperatively between commercial fishermen and scientists in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank-published each month by the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA). He is a graduate of Bates College and the University of Montana Graduate School of Journalism. To subscribe to Collaborations and to learn more about the important role fishermen play in marine research please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit NAMA’s website: www.namanet.org.
The Battle over Maine's Sea Worm Trade
Traditional Diggers Fear Being Edged Out by High-Tech Farm
Credit: Chris Arnold, NPR News
A close-up of worms scooped into trays at a worm dealership.
Danny Brooks, 49, has been digging for worms in mudflats for most of his life. He uses a pitchfork-like rake to turn the mud over, then plucks the worms out.
Seabait founder Peter Cowin stands next to tanks with young, growing worms at one of his company's U.S. operations in Maine.
Diggers count out worms they're about to sell to their local worm dealer. The worms are packed in boxes full of seaweed and shipped out to bait shops all along the East Coast.
Sept. 28, 2003 -- When it comes to the biggest fisheries products in New England, most people might think of lobsters or clams, not worms. But sea worms -– big slimy ones -– are the fourth most-valuable creature fished off Maine's coastline.
The worms make excellent fishing bait and sell for top dollar at bait shops along the East Coast. Aro1,000 licensed worm diggers in Maine make their living by wading thigh deep in coastal mud to gather them. For many, worm digging is a family tradition going back several generations.
But now an aquaculture businessman is setting up a worm farm with help from the state. As NPR's Chris Arnold reports, long-time diggers fear this newcomer could cost them their way of life.
The worm farm is the brainchild of Peter Cowin, a British entrepreneur who got the idea to grow worms commercially while working on a doctorate in worm biology. Cowin founded his company, Seabait, in the United Kingdom, where he now sells sandworms to bait shops as well as fish and shrimp farms around the world, which use the worms as feed.
With the help of a half-million dollar loan from Maine, Cowin is currently building a Seabait aquaculture facility in the state. Maine sees aquaculture as a potentially big industry that in the future could create many well-paying jobs.
Cowin says worldwide demand for worms is rapidly out-pacing the supply in the wild, so it makes sense to farm worms before the resource is depleted. Maine officials say there are signs that this is starting to happen, with some diggers reporting a drop-off in the number of worms.
"We need to save the fishermen, but we also won't have any fishermen if we don't have any resource," says state Sen. Dennis Damon, who chairs Maine's Marine Resources Committee. "So we need to protect the resource as well. And this might be that protection."
Damon and others think Maine's worm diggers could learn from Cowin if they work together, suggesting that Seabait's technology could be used to seed worm beds in the wild. Still, many worm diggers along the coast are having a hard time understanding why Maine is helping Seabait expand into the United States.
"It's the talk of the town, in the restaurants or anywhere that anyone gathers -– create 50 jobs and take away 500. It doesn't make sense," says a owner of a worm dealership. The 20 or so diggers they employ say they each can make $1,000 in a good week. They did half a million dollars in sales last year. Alley thinks the worm farm could hurt his whole community, where many people already struggle to make ends meet.
"My father dug, I've dug and my sons dig," Alley says. "It's a way of life down here, and it employs a lot of people, not just the diggers -- the workers that help pack the worms, the weed pickers, box makers. If this guy gets online and undercuts price, sells to the same bait dealers that these people do, we're going to be out of a job. He'll put us under. That'll be it."
Milbridge, ME 04658
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