Picture, Due to mechanical error,these persons were misidentified in a picture accompanying a story yesterday on the clamming industry. They are, from left, Adrian Wayne, his son Tony and Ronald Pieper.
When the 82-foot clam boat, the Patti B, set out to sea May 8 for a 24-hour clamming trip, the weather forecast called for possible high winds and storms. On the way back to shore the next morning, with winds gusting to 24 miles an hour and waves as high as seven feet, the Patti B sank just outside the Ocean City inlet.
Two men drowned. One is still missing.
The sinking of the Patti B has stimulated a protest movement among surf clammers up and down the mid-Atlantic Coast. They blame the incident on new U.S. regulations that restrict the clammers to an annual quota and assign a one-day work week to certain ships.
If the ships miss their assigned day because of bad weather or a mechanical breakdown, they cannot go out on an alternate day. The strictness of the regulations, the seamen say, has forced many crews to set out for sea in risky circumstances - or else lose a week's pay.
"There are times when we're working out there in fog so thick you can't see a tenth of a mile. When I get back to shore, my head is just splitting," said Anthony Watson, 25, the son of an Ocean City clammer who now owns his own boat. He is an outspoken opponent of the regulations, recently enacted to protect the area's clam supply.
At the heart of conflict between the clammers and the government are two unreconcilable views of the sea. To the waterman, used to seeing their decks overloaded with clams, the sea is a picture of abundance. To the environmentalists and marine scientists who know it in a statistical and mathematical way, the sea is an overworked resource.
"I can see going into a (quota) program, but not to the point where it drives half the clammers out of business," said Watson, who bought a $275,000 clam boat last year that is equipped with an electric stove, refrigerator-freezer, and a shower.
The marine experts and environmentalists who support the government's efforts see the seamans' complaints as an expression of the age-old struggled between short term interests and long range benefits.
"The industry is badly over-capitalized at the moment . . . it is possible that without regulation, (the industry) would be exploited to the point that it would collapse," said an official from the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which devised the current surf clam management plan.
When the wholesale price of clams rose from $3 in 1975 to $11 the next year because of shortages, increased demand, and a price war among the clam buyers, many entrepreneurs with no background in clamming but with an eye toward a good investment flocked to the industry.
There now are about 160 clamming vessels in the mid-Atlantic region, extending from New Jersey to Virginia, which have the capacity to catch more than $23 million worth of clams a year. That is about four times as much as the clam supply can stand, the government experts say despite rebuttals from the fishermen.
"You're down to a very basic thing here," said Robert Rubelmann, administrator of fisheries for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "The fisherman . . . just wants to be out there and be independent and be left alone to fish."
The watermen's protest resembles in some ways the recent American Agricultural Movement strike among farmers, who like the fishermen, say they are tired of taking directives from Washington officials who govern them from afar. In many ways, the fishermen, like the farmers, are rebelling against an image that for decades has portrayed them as an independent but under educated and passive group.
The clammers effort is somewhat hindered because they themselves are divided over the benefits of the quota plan.
For someone in Watson's position, the controls could mean economic disaster. His monthly boat payments are $4,200. He pays $10.000 a year for crew and hull insurance and $1,200 annually in docking fees. Fuel costs for each trip amounts to $300. The necessary equipment for the clam boat costs over $10,000.
"With the payments I have to make I got to (get in) my one day a week," said Watson, a small, but muscular man with a full black beard and curly black hair.
Some clammers, whose boats are paid for, see the new controls as a way of working fewer hours while keeping the price of clams high, and of climinating some of the competition from the small independents.
"Personally, I think (the regulations) are great. I've got my boat paid for. I'm getting a decent paycheck and a couple of weeks off," said Steve Martin, skipper of the Gulf Rambler in Ocean City.
"The problem is, though, that the (current) quota is just not enough for some guys to make ends meet," Martin said.
Although fishing is a high risk industry and a paycheck is never guaranteed, before the regulations went into effect a crew member on a clamming boat could earn anywhere from $400 to $1,000 in a week. A ship's owner could earn anywhere from $25,000 to $100.000 a year. Now, clammers fear that some weeks they will have no income at all.
For those clammers who feel economically threatened by the regulations, their debate with the federal government has a "them-against-us" ring.
"The economists, the statisticians, the scientists, they've all come in on this and they don't know the first damned thing about the industry . . . The business will straighten itself out. It always did before and it will again," said Gosta (Swede) Lovgren, a clammer and clam processor from Point Pleasant, N.J. Lovgren and some other New Jersey watermen are suing the government over the quotas.
"This is a destruction of the individual way," Lovgren said.
Although the quantity of the surf clams in the Delmarva region, which includes Ocean City, has remained relatively stable, according to government research, the overall amount in the mid-Atlantic region is declining the government maintains.
Pollution kills a large number of the surf clams, the government acknowledged. In 1976, New Jersey lost 25 percent of its clam stocks because of an oxygen-eating algae that flourishes where sludge is dumped.
The surf clam produces a yellow colored strip of meat that is used for fried clams and chowder. The size of the surf clam can range from 4 1/2 to 9 inches, and its shell is softer than that of most smaller clams.
Between 1974 and 1975, a significant clam bed at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Cape Charles, Va., became depleted and spurred another major shortage.
Many clammers say all they want is to be able to clam at least two 24-hour days a week or to receive an altenative day in case of bad weather if the one-day a week restrictions continue.
Some clammers have suggested perboat quotas as a more equitable way of regulating the amount of clams caught, rather than an overall quota for the entire industry.
Six members of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which drew up the quotas, said in interviews that they doubted the clammers will get any extra clamming days or alternate days for bad weather. When they figured the overall quota, they took into account the likelihood that some clammers would miss their assigned day. To grant any alternative days would throw off the quota, the officials said.
Dr. J. L. McHugh, one council member who is a specialist in marine resources, said the watermen are nonetheless welcome to work with the council to amend the current management plan.