Harpswell marine adviser begins year-long task

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HARPSWELL — Reviewing town records and meeting with stakeholders are top priorities for the town’s new marine resources consultant.

In a Wednesday workshop with the Board of Selectmen, consultant Darcie Couture, owner of Resource Access International, said the town will most likely have to organize harvesters to conduct new shellfish population surveys.

But before moving forward, Couture said she wants to gather as much information as she can about Harpswell’s shellfish resources and shoreland zoning issues.

“I really just want to see your baseline right now,” before turning to bigger projects, she told selectmen.

With a long shoreline and many small coves and inlets, the challenges confronting Harpswell are daunting, Couture acknowledged.

In March, voters approved $30,000 to hire a consultant to help the town manage its marine resource and conservation efforts. Selectmen voted last week to hire Couture’s firm until March 2014.

Recent challenges to the region’s shellfish industry, including green crab predation, ocean acidification and other issues, convinced the town it needed to put together a strategic program to ensure its resources remain viable, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said.

Couture’s job will include assisting the Marine Resources Committee, developing effective strategies to deal with challenges confronting the town’s shellfish harvesters, and seeking grants and other financial resources to support marine resource projects.

Engaging with harvesters and members of the Marine Resources Committee to get them on board with a town-wide shellfish survey is a top priority, Couture said. The survey is important, she noted, because even relatively recent data may be inaccurate because of the impact of green crabs in the past few years.

Although stakeholder buy-in is essential to the success of any project, Couture said she does not want to take a prescriptive approach to compel people into it.

Selectman Kevin Johnson said the town’s harvesters are open to working with Couture and the town to address the challenges facing it.

“I think they know something needs to be done,” Johnson said. “They’re worried.”

Couture said she plans to focus on doing preliminary research and coordinating different parties in the first few months, in order to gather the information necessary to put together a plan for short and long-term action that can be implemented next spring.

“I’d love to at least get you to that point, where you are stabilized and you have some direction,” Couture said.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.