AUGUSTA — The age-old conflict over access to Maine’s tidal flats got another airing last week during a public hearing on proposed legislation in the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.
Rep. Stanley Zeigler (D-Montville) filed a bill that would prohibit operation of a motor vehicle other than “authorized emergency vehicles” in the intertidal zone except to launch or retrieve “watercraft” or to “engage in an activity that has received any necessary state or local permits and for which a motor vehicle is necessary.”
Known as LD 290, the bill characterizes the prohibited activities as a civil violation subject to a fine between $100 and $500. A fourth offense within a five-year period would be a Class E crime.
Zeigler testified that he offered the bill at the behest of the selectmen from the Waldo County town of Lincolnville, who objected to people driving on the flats at the mouth of the Ducktrap River.
Except for Zeigler himself and Selectman Josh Gerritsen, the bill had no support.
Deirdre Gilbert, director of state marine policy at the Department of Marine Resources, said DMR opposed the bill because of the longstanding “common practice” of shellfish and worm harvesters to drive onto the flats in many areas along the Maine coast. DMR also objected because whether driving on the flats was “necessary” for licensed harvesters to work was a subjective question.
Victor Doyle, a commercial clammer and chairman of the Mount Desert Shellfish Committee, told the committee that LD 290 would “increase the senseless hardships marine harvesters face in accessing the shore and intertidal zone.”
In written testimony, Jonathan Renwick, a longtime wormer and fisherman from the Schoodic Peninsula, told the committee of the widespread use of motor vehicles to access remote tidal flats and that lobstermen often drive into the intertidal zone to collect traps removed from the water in advance of a major storm.
“Not every seemingly good idea is a really good idea, and not every aspect of our lives needs to be codified into law,” Renwick said. “This is not a good idea.”
More or less simultaneously with the hearing on LD 290, on Tuesday the U.S. Senate mustered the will to pass a massive public lands bill that would protect the commercial harvest of worms and clams on the flats within the boundaries of Acadia National Park. The bill had the support of both Maine senators.
About two years ago, national park authorities began to enforce a ban on the longstanding practice of clamming and worming on flats that border Acadia. The National Park Service eventually agreed to allow the harvest to continue, but the new bill, if passed, will ensure that the informal agreement is protected by law.