AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee is considering legislation that would change the membership of the Department of Marine Resources’ Shellfish Advisory Committee. The bill, LD 1906, was introduced by Rep. Will Tuell (R-East Machias) on behalf of DMR.
In testimony before the committee late last month, Deirdre Gilbert, director of state marine policy at DMR, said the bill was reflected the consensus of the existing advisory council after two meetings last spring. The council discussion arose after the committee blocked a proposal to add a scientist to the council and asked DMR to review the composition of the advisory group.
Currently, the council includes four commercial shellfish harvesters, three of whom must be soft-shell clam diggers. The proposed bill would maintain the number of licensed harvesters at four but would eliminate the species requirement.
“The sentiment of the council is that the council is the Shellfish Advisory Council, not the Soft Shell Clam Advisory Council, and as issues facing the shellfish industry evolve, it would be beneficial to have the option for broader representation of the harvesting community,” Gilbert told the legislators.
Posting on its Facebook page, the Maine Clammers Association expressed its opposition to the proposal, saying, “Clamming is one of the top fisheries in the state in terms of landings, value and amount of fishermen employed, so it does not make sense to reduce clammers on this DMR advisory committee.”
LD 1906 also calls for the addition of “a nonvoting member who has a demonstrated knowledge of biological science and holds at least a bachelor’s degree.” That provision mirrors the provisions of a bill passed in the last session of the Legislature that added a scientist to the council but that has been held up because of its potential $50,000 cost.
According to Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington), the committee is already considering changes to the bill that would give the scientist who was on the council a full vote. That would appear to have the support of the Clammers Association, and at least two witnesses who testified before the committee.
Bailey Bowden, who chairs the town of Penobscot’s Shellfish Committee, proposed several changes to the DMR bill. Among them was his suggestion that council should include “two marine biologists with shellfish experience” as voting members. He also called for the committee to retain the current requirement that three of the four council members who are commercial shellfish license holders be soft-shell clam harvesters.
According to Bowden, the Shellfish Advisory Council was established to serve as a “liaison” between the soft-shell clam industry and DMR. Most of the other shellfish harvested in Maine — oysters, mussels, even hard-shell clams — are the product of aquaculture rather than the wild harvest used to gather soft-shell clams.
“The soft-shell clam industry has been one of the most valuable fisheries over the years and the majority of this council should be soft-shell clam harvesters,” Bowden said.
The Marine Resources Committee has taken LD 1906 under advisement. As yet, the committee had not scheduled a work session on the bill.