Sometimes solutions are found just by sharing ideas. That’s the spirit of a new collaborative group that brings together a number of towns along the coast that manage their shellfish resources. The Casco Bay Regional Shellfish Working Group (RSWG) held its first meeting at the Curtis Memorial Library on November 18th. The purpose of the first meeting was to talk about what each town is dealing with currently and where there might be intersections. Follow up meetings will sort out how to work on a subset of those issues over the next year or so. The project has been funded by the Broad Reach Foundation, which funds multiple marine research and community projects.

In Maine, each town gets to be in charge of their shellfish harvest limits and how they keep track of the status of the population of various species. It has the advantage of keeping things local and also giving the harvesters a voice in the process. This happens through the town Marine Resource Committees (MRCs). They are made up of representatives from the town, members of the community and also harvesters. These groups typically meet monthly to advise their towns about the status of the resource and any actions that need to be taken.

If you essentially give the same task to a dozen different groups, you’ll get a dozen different ways of accomplishing that task. So, there is a lot of variation between the ways each town’s MRC operates. That’s often in response to differences in the species being harvested or the way they are harvested from town to town. But, there are also a lot of issues that the towns have in common. That’s the reason that it’s valuable to share ideas.

Jessica Joyce, of Tidal Bay Consulting, one of the group’s two facilitators, introduced the first meeting with an anecdote about her daughter’s sharing time at school. She and co-facilitator Anne Hayden, from Manomet, a local environmental consulting group, encouraged participants at the meeting to see this as an open forum to discuss the needs of each town in an effort to identify how they could work together to find solutions. As each town shared its primary concerns, there was a lot of head nodding in the room that showed the level of commonality. The audience was a mix of representatives from MRCs as well as Harbormasters, Marine Patrol Officers, and community members from Biddeford to Georgetown.

Some of the major themes were how to manage multiple species under the same license. In Brunswick, for example, the hard shell clam population has been doing very well in recent years, whereas the harvest has been focused on soft shell clams in the past. But, they are managed under a single license, which can make it tricky to appropriately set those licenses at the right level. The need for a communications platform of some sort for towns to be in touch with each other beyond these meetings was another common thread. Reseeding areas and having a source of the right size clam seed to do that came up repeatedly as well. And, finding funding for research projects was yet another shared priority among many others.

There is no shortage of options for projects to tackle. The challenge is to decide which of these ideas to work on. That will be the focus of the next meeting, which will be sometime after the first of the year. There is a steering committee as well that meets separately and will provide guidance for the larger group. All of the meetings are public for anyone interested in being involved in the process. You can find out more by contacting Jessica Joyce ([email protected]) or Anne Hayden ([email protected]). As a member of Brunswick’s MRC, I very much look forward to the opportunity to share not only our town’s challenges in managing marine resources but also to sharing in the solutions.

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