FREEPORT — A local woman is leading an effort to get municipalities to collaborate and share ideas and resources to improve shellfish practices around the region.

Jessica Joyce of Tidal Bay Consulting. Courtesy Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Jessica Joyce, principal of Tidal Bay Consulting, which works with clients on fisheries policy, ocean planning and conservation, and environmental impact assessments, began meeting with industry officials in other other municipalities in March to see if there was any interest in creating a multi-municipality working group.

So far, the group includes the towns of Freeport, Scarborough, Brunswick, Harpswell and Yarmouth. Joyce said she hopes municipalities as far south as Biddeford and as far north as Georgetown will join.

“The Harpswell Marine Resources Committee is excited to be a part of this working group,” Paul Plummer, harbormaster and marine resource administrator for the town of Harpswell said in an email Aug. 12. “We feel it’ll be good to know what other municipalities around us are doing for shellfish management. Every town is different on how they manage their flats, but if the ideas are never shared then they are never tried.”

Joyce has worked in federal and regional fisheries. She said she began noticing a lack of organization and communication in the co-management system between states and municipalities during service on the Cumberland Shellfish Conservation Commission from 2008-2018.

“From my perspective, this needed some changes in order to move with the changing environment that we’re living in,” she said. “Some towns have done a lot and others can learn, but there’s no structure for town communication.”

Joyce began attending meetings in March of either the shellfish or marine resource committees in each town to see if the other municipalities would participate in a working group.

“What I’ve been doing since March is going around to each of the town committees and introducing this concept to see if they would be interested in participating,” Joyce said. “The towns are supportive and there are people that are interested in being a part of this. It does not require any monetary commitment from the towns; they would only be volunteering their time to attend meetings.”

Funding is being provided by a $17,000 grant from the Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation. It includes meeting costs and stipends for time participants spend at meetings or participating in related activities.

“My hope is that harvesters and municipalities will be open to sharing ideas, tools and projects to help propagate a healthier and more sustainable shellfish population in our region,” Plummer said.

In Harpswell, his role will mainly consist of passing ideas and concepts along to the town’s Board of Selectmen and Marine Resource Committee. Additionally, Plummer is a liaison for other wardens and resource managers on behalf of the town, he said.

Joyce said similar efforts in the past have failed because the initiatives often rely on volunteer efforts.

She said a similar model was used in the early 2000s with more focus on policy and state regulations. The group was called the Casco Bay Regional Shellfish Council and was part of a larger effort to help shellfish managers and towns share information more easily, as well as coordinate large-scale efforts to improve shellfish rules, regulations, and legislation. Additionally, the group collaborated with other regional shellfish groups that had started up along the coast during this era, according to Dan Devereaux, Brunswick’s Coastal Resource Manager and Harbor Master.

The group, according to Devereaux, did not receive funding and functioned on a volunteer basis. The towns of Brunswick and Yarmouth provided all of the staff support, but lost all assistance when the economy began to decline, he said. The group eventually disbanded, and information sharing and collaboration efforts began being passed through the Department of Marine Resource’s Shellfish Advisory Council.

“The Maine Coast is expansive,” Devereaux said in an email on Aug. 13. “Anytime you can hone the discussion down to regions it make it easier for industry to relate their concerns, efforts, and conservation successes. I can see Brunswick Marine Resources Committee members contributing information on local efforts the town has undertaken to help improve the shellfish populations along the local coastline, (which) includes things like inventory surveys, conservation closures, observance of biological threats, and other conservation efforts like sticker shoreline zoning, and better watershed management.”

The date for an initial meeting has not been set, since most people in the industry work during the summer. Joyce said she hopes to have a meeting this fall.

“Our goal for the first meeting is to hear what other towns are working on,” Joyce said. “A lot of towns talk about very similar issues. We want to let each town explain what they are working on, as well as allow them to brainstorm topics that we can collaborate on and really look at on a more regional level.”

In the meantime, she is trying to create a steering committee of representatives from each town to help guide the discussion.

“So far no one has said no,” Joyce said. “It will be interesting to see how much participation we get from each town.”