SCARBOROUGH — Town councilors voted unanimously Wednesday night to increase the number of commercial shellfishing licenses this year, despite objections raised by some clammers.
The Shellfish Conservation Commission voted 4-3 Nov. 8, 2016, to recommend that the council increase the number of residential commercial licenses from 30 to 33, to increase nonresidential commercial licenses from three to four, and to increase the number of commercial bushel licenses for residents 60 and older from one to three, for a total increase of six licenses.
As a compromise, the council added four new licenses: one resident, one non-resident and two for residents over 60.
Disagreement over the viability of the clam flats prompted three members of the shellfish commission to resign over the last year, including Chairman David Green, who recently submitted his letter of resignation.
Those who oppose granting more licenses – including some members of the commission – cited a softshell clam population that is diminishing due to predators like the green crab and the milky ribbon worm. With the clam population at risk, they believe preservation is key and issuing more licenses will only exacerbate the decline.
Commission member Ed Blanchard on Nov. 8 said he thinks “the milky ribbon worm is a concern – it seems like once the clams get up to cutting size, the worms move in.”
But commission member Erica Downs said in November that, after talking to all parties involved and going out on the flats, “I understand the fear of worms, but I think we need to get out there and dig the clams, turn the mud.”
Town Manager Tom Hall on Thursday said “no one is sure how to deal with the predators, and many are concerned with what it means for the long-term viability for the industry.”
What’s difficult, though, is the “lack of good data” needed to inform the licensing process, Hall said. Right now, much of the information surrounding the clam population is anecdotal.
Town Council Chairman Shawn Babine said the town no longer pays to have the flats surveyed on an annual basis, which means it has to rely on historic or outdated information when making licensing decisions.
“You’re dealing with livestock that are being (preyed upon) by other living things, and you’re trying to rely on historical data that’s 2 years old,” Babine said Thursday.
Although it was not included as an amendment Wednesday night, Babine said he’s going to recommend that the commission utilize some of its reserve funds or ask the town to allocate supplemental funds to “reinstate a surveying process.”
Even then, however, it’s likely that the annual process won’t yield reliable results until the third year, or the completion of one cycle, Babine said.