FREEPORT — The town is considering a municipal shellfish aquaculture permitting program, but the proposal is opposed by clam harvesters.
The pilot program would require an amendment to the town’s shellfish ordinance if enacted. The amendment was recommended by the Shellfish Conservation Commission.
The town’s ordinance committee, consisting of Councilors Sarah Tracy, Melanie Sachs and Bill Rixon, discussed the five-year pilot program for three hours Feb. 25, but didn’t send it to the full Town Council. Members of the Shellfish Conservation Commission also participated in the discussion.
The program would allow clam farming on the town’s mud flats near Wolfe’s Neck Farm and the Recompence Shore Campground. A 35-acre area has been identified as a suitable area by the Shellfish Conservation Commission, but the ordinance committee said it needs to do surveys to make sure nearby landowners would be comfortable having the aquaculture farms close to their land.
“I think that has the potential to kill this thing if we don’t do it right,” Tracy said.
Dale Sawyer, a member of the Shellfish Conservation Commission, said he hopes the program isn’t enacted because it would reduce the public’s access to the mud flats.
“Most clam harvesters are adamantly against this,” he said.
Members of the public who filled the Town Council chambers weren’t allowed to express their opinions at the meeting, but Tracy said they will be allowed to speak at upcoming meetings.
Eric Horn, another member of the commission, assured people that the program isn’t set in stone and is moving slowly and carefully.
“We’re not here to force anything down anyone’s throats,” he said.
According to the proposed ordinance amendment, the program would “protect and optimize Freeport’s shellfish resources through introduction and support of sustainable aquaculture practices.” The program would run for five years and then end unless the town chooses to continue it.
During the first year of the program, five permits could be issued by the commission. By the last year of the program, up to 10 permits could be issued. All permits will last for five years regardless of which year in the program they were issued.
Anyone wishing to obtain a permit must hold a commercial shellfish license from the town and pay $100 per acre for each year of the permit.
The ordinance committee will meet again March 24 to continue reviewing and discussing the proposal. There will also be a public hearing before the proposal can be sent to the Town Council, where it will be enacted or denied.
A shellfish aquaculture permitting program being considered by Freeport would allow clam farming on 35 acres of town-owned mud flats near Wolfe’s Neck Farm and Recompense Shore Campground.