ADDISON — The statewide marine sandworm strike apparently was settled Friday when 25 self-employed worm diggers went back to work here for local sandworm buyer Michael Emerson on an outgoing late afternoon tide.
By accepting Emerson’s negotiated offer to pay 9 cents for each harvested worm, the strikers fell 1 cent short of their goal of increasing the price from 7 1/2 cents to 10 cents.
Jack’s Bait Shop in New York agreed to pay Emerson enough to compensate for the 1 1/2-cent increase. Instead of receiving $75 for 1,000 sandworms, Emerson’s diggers will be paid $90 for 1,000.
Although some buyers in the Down East area remained uncommitted to paying their diggers nine cents, buyers in the Wiscasset area had agreed previously Wednesday to pay the higher rate but did not send their diggers back to work until Down East area buyers negotiated the new price with their market representatives in New York and the more southern coastal states.
Some other buyers in the Down East area did not readily agree to Emerson’s concession to diggers after the three-day strike. Buyers still uncommitted to the increase said Friday that their market representatives had drawn the line at 8 1/2 cents. All buyers, however, were expected to begin paying nine cents soon.
At a meeting Thursday night at the Addison town marina, sandwormers voted to hold out for nine cents. That demand wasn’t met until Emerson agreed to it Friday, minutes before the tide began receding to expose worm beds in the Pleasant River.
The predicted stormy Memorial Day weekend weather is expected to add more woes to the industry because markets already are depleted or have insufficient supplies of sandworms; and fewer sport fishermen in New York and other coastal states will be casting baitworms for striped bass, flukes, flounder and other saltwater fish.
Eddie Hagan, one of two buyers in Jonesport, said Friday that he began the harvest year in late March by paying 8 cents, while other buyers Down East were paying 7 1/2 cents. “I paid the higher price, although my business is down by 50 percent from last year, which was not a good year. I paid it right out of my own pocket because I wanted to give the diggers an incentive to stay with me and work in an industry that is depleted,” he said. The worm industry has fallen victim to overharvesting.