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Pioneering Oyster Men Move On

MAINE - The phytoplankton is terrific. That's why oysters like it. That's why Dick Clime and Gil Jaeger like it too. Clime and Jaeger, both of Bristol, pioneered oyster farming on the Damariscotta River beginning in 1977.

Clime and Jaeger recently sold their business, Dodge Cove Marine Farm, to Muscongus Bay Aquaculture based in Bremen - but the business has retained its name. The business currently has two lease sites on the Damariscotta River, five acres near Perkins Point in Newcastle, and nine acres just south of Hog Island in Damariscotta.

According to Lincoln County News, from humble beginnings with market landings of less than 50,000 oysters annually, Clime and Jaeger experimented with growing and harvesting methods before settling on bottom planted oysters harvested with a dragger.

"We developed a lot of the methods," said Jaeger indicating that in the early days people used to dive to harvest oysters. A dragger on the back of a boat eventually proved more effective.

In the process of developing the business, Clime and Jaeger switched from European Oysters to American Oysters (crassostrea virginica), built the business up to an annual harvest of 500,000 oysters, filled out mounds of state paperwork and watched as the number of aquaculture acres and recreational boats each increased along the river.

Other things have changed too. In the early days an application for an aquaculture lease was only four or five pages long. "Now an application for an aquaculture lease can run 30 to 40 pages," said Clime.

Cultivated Water

Some 120 acres in the Damariscotta River are now under cultivation, primarily for oysters. In 2006 the river supplied 73 percent of the oysters farmed in Maine, says Department of Marine Resources Aquaculture Coordinator Samantha Olsen.

Clime estimates that 2008 should see a record harvest, with perhaps as many as 3 million oysters landed. Last year, said Clime, about 2 million oysters were landed.

Chris Davis, an oyster farmer who also works with the Maine Aquaculture Association in Hallowell, said the harvest is worth about $3 million to the local economy. With economic multiplier effects taken into consideration, the harvest could be worth as much as $8 million, he said.

One of the reasons the river is so productive is that a narrow constriction called the Glidden Ledge, about three miles from Damariscotta, make parts of the river like a tidal pool, said Clime. The resulting warmer water allows for a cornucopia of phytoplankton, small floating plant matter that is a banquet for oysters.

Clime and Jaeger both studied Oceanography at the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

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