With new rules, the Yarmouth Shellfish Conservation Commission hopes to keep more clam flats open in the future. A vote on the proposal is expected March 3. Here clammers work in Freeport. File

YARMOUTH — The local shellfish commission is proposing new rules to incentivize clammers to volunteer for projects to support good management practices.

Those with the most points would “get a leg up” and move to the front of the line when new commercial licenses are awarded, Shellfish Conservation Commission member Judy Colby-George told the Town Council Feb. 6.

Licenses are now awarded randomly by lottery.

In a push to open more areas for clamming and help revive the local industry, Colby-George said the idea is to reward harvesters who participate in conservation work and ensure those who are licensed are not only familiar with the local flats, but are truly invested in their success.

According to Town Manager Nate Tupper, the aim is to have the council OK new rules in time for work on the flats this spring, including water quality data-gathering and surveying clam populations.

The Shellfish Commission next meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, at Town Hall, where a vote on the new point system is expected. The council will have the final say over any ordinance changes.

Harbormaster Will Owen said there may be only five commercial license-holders in Yarmouth, but Shellfish Commission member Kevin Oliver said at the meeting that “a number of people (still) depend on this resource and we all know that the bay’s been changing, which is why it’s important we keep managing (the flats) properly.”

Owen said it’s hoped the point system will prompt more people to participate in conservation projects, which, in turn, should keep more areas open for clamming. More harvesters could then lead to more licenses to benefit new generations of clammers.

The commission needs help monitoring the flats, Owen said, and there’s a lot more that could be done to open up areas that are closed due to water quality concerns or other issues.

“Nobody knows the flats better than the clammers themselves,” Owen said.

According to Owen, in recent years Yarmouth was allowed to reopen about 30 acres, but hundreds of acres remain closed. Some of the closures are permanent, the harbormaster said, but others are temporary and often are impacted by runoff. If the water quality is improved, the state would likely open more areas.

Conservation projects could include reseeding projects, invasive species management, environmental monitoring, and participating in continuing education, according to the Shellfish Commission.

Colby-George said this week the group also wants flexibility in the types of projects that can earn points and allow clammers to suggest suitable conservation work.

Many area towns, such as Harpswell, Freeport and West Bath, require clammers to engage in conservation to either keep their commercial license or get a fee discount. However, Ben Tupper, who also sits on Yarmouth’s Shellfish Commission, said Feb. 6 that the local group wanted to incentivize and encourage participation instead of forcing people to take part.

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