Worming still a good way to earn a living, says local harvester

Wed, 05/22/2024 - 8:00am

Kacey Mullins of Wiscasset waxes enthusiastic about his profession of harvesting bloodworms for sale to be used for bait by fishermen around the world.

“It beats working under fluorescent lights,” he said in a recent interview. “I have had other jobs, normal 9 to 5, it just wasn’t for me.”

He’s been worming three and a half years, and said the best part of his life now is “being outside, not being confined to an office, and having his own schedule. “I am getting more and more passionate about this industry,” he said.

Maine is one of the few U.S. states with an active marine worm fishery.

Mullins sells his worms to Phil Harrington, a Wiscasset bait dealer, who packages them in seaweed and ships them in boxes to recreational fishermen around the world. Mullins gets 90 cents for extra large worms (four and a half to five inches long), and 65 cents for regular ones, enough to make a good living to support his wife and two kids, he said.

You have good days and bad days. But how much you can make in a day depends on how much effort you put in.”

Mullins, 35, was introduced to worming during COVID by a good friend who took him out on his boat and to the tidal flats “and I just fell in love with it,” he said. You need a boat to get to the flats because a lot of the mudflats are not accessible by land, as owners don’t want you walking through their property, he explained.

He goes out all seasons, when the tides are right, any time of the day or night. There are 624 tide cycles a year. “You can be active twice a day,” he noted. He said it can be strenuous work bending over with a digging hoe.

In the summer months it’s absolutely beautiful.  You get a nice ocean breeze, and get to see lots of wildlife. The winters, can be a little trying, but as long as you dress properly and have all the right gear, it’s fine.

In the dark, he wears a head lamp and has a large light on his boat to help him navigate the channels. The light has to be just right to see the worms, he explained, as they blend into the mud really well, “and as soon as you turn the mud over you have a few seconds to grab a worm.”

Asked it they bite, he said yes, adding, he has been bitten multiple times. He noted the sting is “equivalent to that of a yellow jacket.”

Mullins estimates there are about 50 wormers in the Wiscasset area, down from the time 20 years ago when National Geographic Magazine named Wiscasset the Worm Capital of the World.

But he is optimistic things will turn around. Worm populations go in cycles, they disappear from certain areas, and then they come back, he said. “I see the population increasing personally. Anyone with enthusiasm will not struggle in this industry. There’s so much mud in the area that hasn’t been dug.

He is on the committee preparing for Wiscasset’sWormfest, to be held on Saturday, June 8a day filled with music, local cuisine, games, and a day to celebrate the town’s rich tradition of worm digging. He will be on hand to answer questions and to promote his passion.

“This is the (festival’s) first year, and there are a lot of learning pains we’ve had to go through, but I really believe in what we are trying to do and I love the whole community aspect of it.” 

The Wiscasset High School graduate and Eagle Scout said he loves Wiscasset and hopes the festival will bring together people in the town and surrounding areas.

For more about Wormfest, visit wiscassetwormfest.com