FREEPORT – The Freeport Shellfish Conservation Commission, at the urging of the Maine Clammers Association, will vote April 10 on a plan that calls for the town to help coordinate a push for a regional shellfish commissioner.

At a meeting March 13, Chad Coffin, the clammers association president, accused the town of being unresponsive to the needs of clammers – to the point that “bureaucratic shields” are used to protect the position of the town shellfish warden.

The shellfish panel debated what a commissioner should be doing and where. At Coffin’s suggestion, the commission went along with a plan to only include Casco Bay towns north of Freeport in a regional plan. Coffin provided the commission with a 37-page report on the regional proposal, a report compiled with the help of consultant Sara Randall.

At issue is how to control the devastation to clams and other shellfish caused by the invasive European green crab.

Coffin said that Casco Bay towns south of Freeport, such as Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth, should not be part of the regional plan because they do not have conservation requirements, and have little stake in the program. Commission members Del Arris and Dale Sawyer argued that those towns have the same problem with green crabs devastating the clam population as other nearby towns, and should be included. But Coffin appeared to win out.

“The towns south of here have no labor agreements and don’t value the program,” Coffin said. “They have money, but no value system.”

Town Manager Peter Joseph said from the audience that he had been in contact with town officials in Brunswick and Harpswell, who have expressed some interest in a regional shellfish commissioner.

Arris and Sawyer agreed to focus on towns north of Freeport, but not to close the door on Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth.

The commission then voted to put a regional commissioner job description on the agenda for the April 10 meeting, and put forth a proposal to the Town Council.

Joseph and James Hendricks, Town Council chairman, sat quietly in the audience as Coffin said that the council had “repeatedly denied and frustrated” the clammers association’s attempts to regionalize an effort to conserve the shellfish fishery. Neither did Tom Kay, the town shellfish warden who was seated at the front table with the commission, react to Coffin’s comments.

Kay’s position is part of the police department. The shellfish warden enforces state statutes and the town’s shellfish ordinance. Kay also tests the town’s tidal areas in conjunction with the Department of Marine Resources, oversees the opening and closing of shellfish harvest areas, checks the size of harvested shellfish, checks the licenses of harvesters and works with the shellfish commission in conservation efforts.

Coffin went on to say that seven of the nine area towns that have shellfish wardens issued no warnings or summonses for violations of local harvesting laws.

“We don’t need a shellfish officer,” he said. “The police department gets grants through the warden position.”

Joseph said privately that town officials have, indeed, engaged in discussions on the value of the shellfish warden, and have asked the commission to provide any changes it recommends.

“We’d be glad to look at the position,” Joseph said. “We rely on the commission as the town board to make recommendations.”

Coffin said that a regional shellfish commissioner should define, coordinate and execute projects to protect the region’s shellfish population. The commissioner should develop a shellfish conservation program and marshal the resources of member towns for resource management and protection.

He said that the pay level should be based on what the towns pay their wardens, but Sawyer argued the position should be put out to bid. Sawyer said he would object to clammers paying any surcharge to fund the position.

“Clammers are already paying with their license fees,” Sawyer said.

Regarding Gov. Paul LePage’s recent order establishing a task force to review and consider the impact of the European green crab on shellfish, Coffin said there is no time to wait for the state to do something.

Freeport commissioned a $100,000 study on the impact of green crabs last year, and the University of Maine has committed $200,000 for a follow-up study along Freeport’s clam flats this year. The Shellfish Conservation Commission worked with Brian Beal, a University of Maine professor of marine ecology, who will be back next month to begin the follow-up. Beal and local clammers set up fencing and trapped green crabs to study their effect on shellfish.

Chad Coffin, president of the Maine Clammers Association, in a brown sweater, makes a point during the March 13 meeting of the Freeport Shellfish Conservation Commission at the Freeport Community Center. From left are commission members Andy Wilbur and Eric Horne, Coffin, Sara Randall, consultant for the Maine Clammers Association, and Tom Kay, the town’s shellfish warden.  

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