2017-01-13 / Front Page

Vote makes for happy clammers

Town council gives OK to add four clamming permits
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

There may be more activity on the clam flats of Scarborough this year after the town council voted last week to increase the number of clammers allowed to harvest the local stock.

The council’s decision comes after a lengthy meeting on the topic last week and two months after members of the shellfish conservation commission had a contentious discussion as to how many shellfish licenses holders to have in town.

Back in November, by a 4-3 decision, the shellfish conservation commission recommended increasing the number of shellfish licenses for 2017, by adding three commercial licenses, two licenses for harvesters over 60 years old and one commercial licenses for non-residents.

In the end, after hearing a recommendation from Harbormaster Ian Anderson, vice chairman Kate St. Clair made a motion, which the council approved, of adding one additional resident commercial license, one non-resident commercial license and two commercial licenses for individuals over 60 years old.

The motion will maintain the amount of resident student commercial licenses (10), non-resident commercial licenses (1), resident recreational licenses (200), non-residential recreational licenses (20) and day permits (10 per day). Except for the day permits, the licenses, which grants year-round access to the clam flats, are automatically renewed as long as the license holder performs the requisite number of conservation hours and pays the license fee.

The Department of Marine Resources will review the increased license number and is expected to, like in years past, approve the council’s vote.

“Largely speaking they take the opinion of the towns seriously,” Harbormaster Ian Anderson said of the Department of Marine Resources.

After hearing from the public at the Jan. 4 meeting, St. Clair said a compromise was in order.

“I feel very strongly we got to come up with a compromise here. I understand why some of you don’t want any more licenses and I understand why some of you do,” she said after making her motion, which was supported by everyone on the council except Councilor Will Rowan.

Aside from the four new licenses, two existing licenses will be up for grabs in April. Those licenses belong to people who are not continuing to clam in 2017.

St. Clair said typically she heeds committee recommendations, but changed her mind after hearing from license holders on both sides of the issue.

“I will support the amendment because it is a compromise, but I think it is a short-term solution,” said Councilor Chris Caiazzo. “It’s not the end all be all.”

Rowan, who tried to get enough support from his councilors to keep the license figures the same, but failed to make that happen, was weary of adding more licenses.

“I’ve heard enough to be very concerned about our waterfront out there,” he said. “It is a lot harder to take licenses away than it is to add more. From a risk perspective, while we may be OK adding licenses this year, there is a lot of risk in adding these licenses.”

Peter Angis, commerical harvester, was one of the audience members who spoke in favor of the commission’s recommendation.

“I don’t think it will have an adverse impact on the current license holders if there are more licenses because there are plenty of clams out there,” he said.

Adding licenses, he said, could infuse some youth into clam harvesting. According to Angis more than 60 percent of the license holders are over 50 years old and a third older than 60 years old.

“It’s time to get some new blood and this is the year we should get some new blood into the occupation,” he said.

Dennis Violette agreed new blood is needed in the industry.

Ed Blanchard, who has been clamming since 1991 and full-time for 10 years, supports the current allotment of licenses.

“I don’t think adding more licenses is a good idea. I think we have a pretty good set of licenses already. Some towns are talking about taking back licenses, but I certainly don’t want to go down that road. The number of licenses we have now, I am fine with,” he said.

Scarborough High School sophomore Elijiah Holbrook and his grandfather, David Green are not fans of the increase.

“The committee, and a lot of us, want to protect the resource out there. I hope you make an amendment to keep the numbers the same,” Green, the chairman of the shellfish conservation advisory commission – said to councilors.

Green said the seed – young clams not yet ready for harvest – is there, but it doesn’t last because of the green crab and milky ribbon worm, two invasive species that feed on clams.

Green told the Leader that every community from Kittery to Calais is dealing with the crabs and worms and like Scarborough, have yet to find a solution to control them.

“Where to go with it, no one seems to have a good handle,” he said.

What is clear, he said, is the work license holders are doing to conserve the clam stock by killing the crabs and attempting to kill the worms, which regenerate when cut, does not seem to be working.

Anderson said the addition of license holders could help in the conservation work. Last year clammers trapped and killed 3,600 pounds of crabs, but according to Green didn’t “put a dent” in the population. Most of the work was done near Jones Creek and Ferry Beach.

“There are clams out there, but before they get big enough, the doggone green crabs and worms eat them. It doesn’t seem like it is safe to put more clammers out there until we get those predators taken care of,” said Paul Erickson, who has spent the last six years as a commercial clammer and would have liked the number of licenses to have stayed the same.

Robert Willette, the former chair of the commission for the past eight years, said there is “not one fact” to support adding more licenses. He said Tim Downs, who made the motion at the commission meeting to increase the number of licenses, told him increasing the number of licenses is aimed at depleting the stock to starve out the predators.

Downs increasing the number of license holders will also help “turn the mud” and free the clams from where the worms live.

“They have no natural predator. They are destroying some part of the flats,” Downs said of the milky ribbon worm.

Joe Delano, a resident of Freeport who hold a non-resident commercial license to clam in Scarborough, said although “when you are in the mud, all you see is milky ribbon worm,” there are still plenty of clams for the taking.

Chuck Maynard, another non-resident license holder, wanted to see the numbers remain the same.

“It’s not about today. It is not about next year. It’s about protecting our resources for the future,” he said.

If Scarborough does see a bump in the clam crop in the future, he suggested issuing seasonal permits for clamming from June to September.

“We don’t know what Mother Nature has in store for us, but I do know if we add more licenses we will devastate our clams,” he said.

Erica Downs, a supporter of more licenses, said it is hard to determine the fate of the flats based on landing data from the Department of Marine Resources, which tend to be unreliable and change even years later. Landings, according to the Department of Marine Resources, is the “total number or weight of all marine species captured, brought to shore and sold (or transferred) to another person or party.”

Anderson said the landing reports is the only thing the commission has to go on since the flats have not been surveyed over the last few years. Anderson said he would like to reinstate the surveying of the flats, possible through the help of students at the University of New England. Council Chairman Shawn Babine said he supports reinstating the surveying process to get a better feel of the clam population.

The discussion over the recommended number of licenses at the shellfish conservation advisory commission level created such acrimony that three commission members resigned Green, Willette and Dwayne O’Roak, but the three are expected to rescind their resignations and continue with the committee. Many have said the committee is dysfunctional and in need of a revamp, something Green said he is committed to fixing.

“I aim to fix that whether I am on the committee or not,” he said.

One improvement, he said, could be to rework the ordinance, which was adopted in 1985 and amended many times since then.

The ordinance, Green said, “does not give the committee the tools needed in the 21st century to deal with the predation we have.”

Green’s daughter Jessica Holbrook said if the council thinks “outside the box” in terms of how to fix the issue and look into reworking the ordinance through the council’s ordinance committee, “you won’t have a room full of angry people talking to you about what to do or not to do.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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