ELLSWORTH, Maine — Officials from seven municipalities in eastern Hancock County have finished writing a proposed ordinance and interlocal agreement that would apply to a multitown shellfish conservation district, according to officials.
Now, to get the district approved and operating, the documents have to be approved by each of the seven municipalities.
Ellsworth is the only city among the group and, to ratify the proposed district, only has to have the arrangement approved by the City Council. Each of the other six towns — Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Trenton, Sorrento and Sullivan — operates with a town meeting type of government and so must have it approved directly by voters.
“By May 1, we want to have it in operation,” Joe Porada said Sunday about the proposed district. Porada is a clam digger who owns property in Hancock and plies his trade in eastern Hancock County.
Towns that might not hold their annual meeting before then likely would have to schedule special town meetings to have residents consider the proposed district, according to Sullivan Selectman Gary Edwards.
The purpose of establishing such a district is so its member towns can enact their own harvesting ordinance and limit the number of harvesters from out of town who can dig on their local flats. Shellfish harvesters are required to have at least a state license, which allows them to dig for clams in any town in Maine where they do not also have to have a local license.
According to Porada, about 60 shellfish harvesters live in the seven municipalities that would be part of the district. All likely would be given licenses for the local district, while 10 more licenses would be set aside for harvesters who do not live in the member towns. Such nonresident licenses would be sold by a lottery system, he said.
A local district also would enable the member towns to share the costs of enforcing the ordinance. Individual towns are allowed to create their own shellfish ordinances, but state law requires them to enforce it and many towns cannot cover the costs of hiring a local warden. State law does not recognize local shellfish ordinances if they are not enforced by towns that enact them.
The idea of creating a multitown district in eastern Hancock County arose last summer after red tide closures were enacted along much of the coast, but not in eastern Hancock County. As a result, harvesters from all over Maine came to the area to dig clams because there was no local district or municipal ordinance in place.
“The resource got overworked because red tide had so many other areas closed,” Edwards said.
Edwards said that if the district is approved, the district expects to receive money from the State Planning Office to help get things moving.
“The idea is to get a warden on board and to start selling licenses by the 1st of May,” he said.
According to Porada, the prospective cost of hiring a warden is about $30,000, plus benefits. He said district organizers already have heard from men and women who are interested in the job.
Porada said a meeting is planned for 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, at Ellsworth City Hall for harvesters who want to learn more about the proposed district ordinance and interlocal agreement.
If the district were approved, it would be only the second such multimunicipality district in Maine that regulates how shellfish are harvested in its local intertidal flats. The only one in Maine now is the St. George River Association, which includes the towns of Cushing, Thomaston, St. George, South Thomaston and Warren.