AUGUSTA — A proposed bill amendment to eliminate municipal shellfish ordinances was quickly shelved after facing strong opposition from the state’s harvesters and municipal shellfish councils.
Rep. Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) drafted an amendment that would prohibit a municipal council from adopting a shellfish conservation program. It also would have allowed for all commercial license holders to harvest anywhere in the state instead of in declared zones.
The bill, LD 202, read, “A municipality may not adopt or enforce an ordinance that regulates the taking of possession of shellfish, provides protection from shellfish predators or authorizes municipal officials to open and close flats.”
Simmons’ bill made it to the Legislature’s Marine Resource Committee, but was withdrawn following committee discussion.
Simmons is serving his first term as a legislator and as a member of the Marine Resources Committee.
“The concern with this bill was that it throws conservation out the window,” said State Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle), who also sits on the Marine Resources Committee. “Nobody is going to take care of the flats like a local committee that has somewhat restricted access to them.”
Municipal shellfish committees oversee local shellfish closures, manage licenses and protect flats from predators. These committees have been overseeing the local shellfish harvests for many decades and are made up of both selectmen and others in the industry. Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor each have shellfish committees.
Kumiega received many complaints about the proposed change, as did other members of the committee, he said.
“Some people were quite upset [about the bill],” he said. “They do a lot of work to try and control predators, and they buy sea clams and spread them out. People have time and money invested in their local flats.”
Without direct oversight from harvesters who regularly work the flats, the resources could become depleted, Kumiega said.
Others believe that clam flats around the state should be unrestricted.
Kumiega said an open state could have an impact on harvesters’ livelihoods.
“Clams go pretty fast, and they can’t take doubling or tripling the harvest without really doing some damage that would take time to recover from,” he said. There would need to be enough resources for full-time harvesters to make a year-round living.
Withdrawing a bill after it has been presented to its respective committee is relatively rare. Kumiega estimated it happens 50 times out of every 2,000 bills proposed.
Prior to his inaugural appearance in the Legislature last December, Simmons sat on the shellfish committee of the Waldoboro Board of Selectmen. He is a small business owner and fisherman and ran for the District 91 seat on a platform of paring down fishing regulations.