BRUNSWICK

Brunswick is backing away from a plan that would have increased shellfish license fees in response to a ruling by the Maine Department of Labor.

The issue arose after questions were raised last year during an inquiry over the way Waldoboro was running its conservation program.

Similar to Waldoboro, Brunswick requires shellfish harvesters to earn conservation credits in order to receive a license.

A review in Brunswick found that some duties performed in order to obtain credits, such as coastal cleanup, surveys and scientific activities that determine the health of shellfish, were not exempted from the state’s fair labor standards act. In other words, the town would be required to pay shellfish harvesters for some of their conservation work mandated by the town as a condition for holding a license.

In response, Brunswick’s Marine Resources Committee had decided to increase the $300 licensing fee by $200, and then reimburse har- vesters for their conservation credit work — $10 an hour that, for a maximum of 20 hours of conservation work, equals the amount of the increase.

“We thought we had a pretty good idea,” said Brunswick Marine Resource Officer and Harbormaster Dan Devereaux.

A review by the town attorney seems to have led to a change of heart. Work conducted would have been difficult to track and would have had to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service, according to Devereaux.

“The process to charge a higher fee was just too onerous for the town,” Devereaux said.

Rather, the town believes it can get around the issue by changing its definition of “propagation.”

Propagation refers to the spreading of shellfish seeds on flats, and that work is reportedly exempt from the labor rule in question.

The town may instead broaden the definition beyond the physical planting of shellfish seed to include meetings where propagation is planned. Harvesters could attend those meetings and still receive conservation credit.

The definition could also be changed to include additional work on the flats, including clearing debris.

“As long as we operate under the broader definition, we’re fine,” Devereaux said.

Conservation credits will still be mandatory in order to receive a license, Devereaux noted, but all of that work, including propagation, begins with a planning process.

Devereaux said the Marine Resources Committee will bring its proposal before the town council in March or April.

Brunswick wasn’t the only town that was looking to increase its fees in light of the labor department’s ruling.

It appears that a plan in Harpswell to require harvesters to complete conservation activities or see their license increase from $200 to $600 under a proposal may still come before the Town Meeting in March.

Darcie Couture, Harpswell’s Marine Resource coordinator, said they have learned from the quagmires of other towns, and Harpswell will take a straightforward approach to the shellfish license situation.

According to Couture, harvesters may do conservation projects to earn a license fee reduction, but the projects will not be assigned a dollar value.

Although participating in conservation projects is optional, harvesters who choose to do the work will earn enough reduction to pay the original license fee of $200. Those who choose not to participate will pay the extra $400 for their license, she added.

Couture had no worries as to whether harvesters will choose to do conservation work or pay the full license fee.

“In Harpswell, there is a core group of people who are willing to do the work, and we don’t see these conditions changing. The same handful of people will straggle in at the end of the year. They didn’t do the time, so they simply pay a higher license fee,” she said.

[email protected]timesrecord.com

[email protected]timesrecord.com

‘Propagation’ plan

BRUNSWICK BELIEVES it can get around the issue by changing its definition of “propagation.”

Propagation refers to the spreading of shellfish seeds on flats, and that work is reportedly exempt from the labor rule in question.

BRUNSWICK MAY INSTEAD broaden the definition beyond the physical planting of shellfish seed to include meetings where propagation is planned. Harvesters could attend those meetings and still receive conservation credit.



Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: