2018-01-26 / Front Page

Clam license figure left at 31

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The number of shellfish licenses available for 2018 will remain constant, at least for the time being, after the town council set the shellfish license allocations following the recommendation of the Scarborough Shellfish Conservation Commission.

Robert Willette, commission chairman, said the commission was fully on board with leaving the allocations the same as 2017 (31 resident commercial licenses, four non-resident commercial licenses, two over 60 commercial bushel license, 10 resident student commercial licenses, one non-resident student commercial licenses, 200 resident recreation licenses, 20 non-resident recreational licenses and 10 day permits per day).

“We proposed to keep them the same and we had no opposition in that,” he said.

The opposite was true this time last year when by a 4-3 split, the commission recommended increasing the number of shellfish licenses.

Except for day permits, the licenses, which grant year-round access to the clam flats, are renewed, if the license holder wants, as long as they perform the requisite number of conservation hours and pays the license fee.

Willette said the shellfish commission had asked license holders to perform surveys of the flats to determine the health of the clam population, but couldn’t get much participation from the clam diggers. He said the shellfish commission discussed making the surveys a requirement, like the conservation work is or “weeding out” people who have licenses, but don’t use them frequently.

Ed Blanchard, who has held a license since 1991, said survey work should be done after the summer months, the busiest time for commercial harvesters. Blanchard said he didn’t do any survey work last year, but did participate in projects to control the population of the green crab, a clam predator.

“You need to schedule surveying in September because no one is going to do it in the summer when they are trying to make a living,” he said. “If you make it mandatory, I’ll do it, but I think getting the crabs (under control) is more important.”

Aside for surveying, work is underway to better understand the threat to the clam population, thanks to a partnership with the University of New England (UNE). An undergraduate student at the university is working on a two-year study of the milk ribbon worm, an invasive species that is a major predator of young clams, looking at why the worm appears in Scarborough in much greater numbers than elsewhere in the state.

Willette said it will take several years of survey and UNE work before the commission will be able to “crunch the numbers” and know what is happening in the flats and why.

The commission, Willette said, is looking to hold a workshop in the coming months to discuss the town’s license lottery system “to ensure those who will use the licenses more can get a license.” If that does happen, Willette said the town might have to reduce the number of licenses it awards because the clam flats may not be able to handle 30-plus active clam harvesters.

Councilor Chris Caiazzo suggested the commission also review student licenses and “find a mechanism for those kids to continue on if they want” after their student licenses expire.

When the licenses, for students 12- to 22-years-old, expire, to continue those license holders have to join the regular lottery system. Last January, several resident commercial license holders told the council they want to find a way to infuse some youth into clam harvesting. Peter Angis, a commercial harvester said at the time more than 60 percent of the license holders are over 50 years old and a third older than 60.

Caiazzo feels a recommendation as to how to increase young clam harvester participation should come from the shellfish commission.

“To me, a solution is better coming from you than us because you guys are the experts,” Caiazzo said.

Willette said he would support Caiazzo’s idea.

“That’s the best idea we could do, if we can get the support,” he said.

Council Chairman Bill Donovan said he would like the commission to return to the council with a solution before April, when licenses are typically renewed.

“I’d do anything for these kids,” Willette said. “They are all great kids. They come out and work very hard. It’s very hard to do this on a commercial level in order to support your family.”

Clam harvester David Green said the students license program was set up to allow students to earn money for college, not to be an apprenticeship program for future commercial clam diggers.

“Don’t turn the program into something it was not intended. You need to go back and look at your ordinances if you want to take that route. I don’t have a problem with that, but that’s not its intention. It was intended for kids to make a good summer chunk of change to go back to school,” Green said.

Caiazzo said he is not suggesting every student license holder should get another license when their student one expires, but rather there may be things the commission and town can do to encourage the younger group of clam harvesters.

“There is room for improvement, I think. Hopefully we will move in that direction,” he said.

Green said the only way the town can be assured the amount of licenses it allots is right is with data, something the town does not have.

“You say ‘let’s just stay where we are at. We’ll be safe.’ How do you know that? How do you know you aren’t already over too many license numbers?” Green asked, adding reducing the commercial license numbers by, say four, would take at least 10 years to happen through attrition.

Now that the council has acted on it, the request will be sent to the Department of Marine Resources for its review.

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

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