ELLSWORTH — There are seven active clammers who live in Ellsworth. But they dig outside city limits in the clam flats of Frenchman Bay. Those flats have been restored through conservation, clam seeding, regional closures and other measures the Frenchman Bay Regional Shellfish Committee enacted after forming in 2009. Ellsworth, Hancock, Lamoine, Franklin, Sorrento, Sullivan and Trenton all joined the committee, with Ellsworth acting as program administrator.
Last March, councilors unanimously voted to step down as administrators. Franklin took it on. On Dec. 20, the council discussed the merits of staying a member of the program.
“The $3,000 [annually] it costs Ellsworth to remain a member, what does it get for it?” asked Councilor Marc Blanchette, who represents Ellsworth on the committee.
“A product your businesses can sell,” shellfish committee member Gary Edwards, of Sullivan, said. He added, “I would ask, what is the advantage of Ellsworth not to belong…and support an industry that’s important to the local economy of this region?”
The formation of the shellfish committee brought the clam flats into local jurisdiction and kept other clammers out. Red tide blooms prior to 2009 didn’t severely affect the local flats but caused the closure of harvesting grounds elsewhere in the state. That brought clammers from all over who dug the flats dry.
“Every clammer in the state came here,” Edwards said.
The regional program allows only clammers from the seven member municipalities to dig in flats in the towns. However, Ellsworth has no active flats. So, if the city dropped out of the committee, city clammers would have nowhere to dig.
Shellfish committee Chairman Joe Porada told councilors that local clammers brought in over $1.5 million from their harvest in 2020, while this year the amount is closer to $2 million.
“These diggers spend most of their money in Ellsworth because that’s where everything happens,” Porada noted.
Councilors agreed staying with the program made sense, if for no other reason than the seven city clammers.
“I’m not willing to take somebody’s livelihood,” Councilor Michelle Kaplan said. “That’s just wrong.”
There are 61 clammers licensed through the program. State rules dictate that 10 percent of local licenses be made available to clammers outside of the seven towns, but six licenses are already grandfathered. The remaining licenses are then chosen by lottery.
“Seven families is pretty important to me,” Councilor Steven O’Halloran said. “Three thousand dollars? You can spend a lot more money [and get] a lot less.”
Ellsworth clammer Cathy Pickard offered to represent the city on the committee, to be formally voted on in January.
“Thank you for stepping up,” Councilor Robert Miller said.