News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 24, 2013
Shellfish hearing sets stage for special town meeting in Deer Isle

by Alice Wilkinson

A public hearing on a newly proposed shellfish ordinance in Deer Isle was held January 17 ahead of a special town meeting that will take place January 24. The special town meting will ask voters to approve the proposed changes and solidify them in the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance is slightly different from the one it would replace. The word “clam” is replaced by the word “shellfish” throughout; so, the name of the committee, which works to conserve the flats and the resource, is changed from Clam Conservation Committee to Shellfish Conservation Committee.

In addition, the word shellfish refers not only to clams (which it does in the current ordinance), but to quahogs and hen clams.

A major change, besides the inclusion of quahogs and hen clams is the increase in the cost of recreational licenses, from $1 to $10 for residents, and from $2 to $20 for non-residents.

The cost of a commercial license stays at $400 for residents and $600 for non-residents. Resident junior licenses are $100; non-resident junior licenses are $200. A junior is defined as someone between 13 and 17 who is attending school. All licenses for those under 12 and over 65 are free.

Of the 24 people who attended the hearing, about two-thirds were commercial clam diggers. The rest were interested citizens and the town officials.

Kathleen Billings-Pezaris, who wrote the original ordinance and serves as an advisor to the committee, went over the changes and explained the ordinance.

“We’re trying to pay for enforcement. We have to make sure we keep the ordinance strong and this will help raise some extra funds. … We’re really lucky. We’ve got a lot of clams. Since we’ve had the ordinance we have kept a good healthy stock. It’s nice to be able to dig clams.” The shellfish warden’s salary is partially paid for by license fees.

She added, “We have a really good shellfish warden. [Raylene Pert] is one of the best in the state…you’ve got somebody that’s crackerjack and she works for people. The clam diggers respect her.”

Herbie Carter, who is a commercial digger and a member of the clam committee, said that without the ordinance covering quahogs, they would disappear. He saw people coming from New Hampshire digging—“It wasn’t as if they was only coming once a week.”

He went on to say that on the recreational license, “If you’re here two weeks and go five times, figure you’ve got $130 worth of clams.”

Billings-Pezaris added that when she was on Cape Cod, a recreational clam license was $20 and that it was good for 20 hours—and that you could only get one a week.

Chandler Eaton pointed out that even if the ordinance passes and the cost of the recreational licenses is increased, “you won’t know how many [are sold] until next year.”

Andrew Wendell, also a clam digger, added that not only are there plenty of clams to dig, “they are the best.”

Between Deer Isle and Stonington, the Island is third in clam landings, behind Brunswick and Freeport, Billings-Pezaris said. Last year 800,000 pounds were landed here—“it’s not just a lot of money—it’s jobs and they need it.”

She asked if anyone there thought that the increase in the recreational licenses was too much. No one indicated that they did. Town Tax Collector Myra Weed asked if this ordinance passed, would the shellfish committee still be asking for money on the warrant. The answer was yes. The shellfish committee is expected to ask the town for $13,000 to help cover the cost of the warden, not completely covered by license fees because the number of clam diggers is down. Billings-Pezaris said that the number is down because lobstering has been so good, many are working as sternmen. She emphasized that keeping the resource is important so that the fishery is diversified.

The special town meeting will take place January 24 at the Deer Isle town hall at 6:30 p.m. Stonington voters recently enacted the same measures proposed for the Deer Isle ordinance.

In a brief meeting that preceded the hearing, the Deer Isle selectmen signed a tax anticipation note for $2,345,000. They opened two bids. The one from Bar Harbor Bank & Trust offered the TAN for 1.87 percent; the one from Camden National Bank offered an interest rate of 1.05 percent, and that is the one they chose.

First Selectman Neville Hardy said that the town had taken possession of a new one-ton Chevy truck this week. The truck, which will have a plow but no sander on it, will do what he refers to as “the small roads.” He also said the town has quite a lot of sand left from last year.

Deer Isle resident Bill Wigman came in to find out why the signing of the TAN had been advertised in the paper, and Second Selectman Twyla Weed explained that it was just a precaution recommended by the lawyer. He also said, “I thought the meeting started at 6—you’re early.”

The selectmen pointed to the clock on the wall that said 6:10. He said his watch said two minutes to 6.

At the end of the meeting, asked if they were going to adjust the clock, Third Selectman Lewis Ellis said, “No.”