ELLSWORTH, Maine — The City Council voted 6-0 Monday night to include Ellsworth in a proposed regional shellfish conservation district in eastern Hancock County.
With the vote, Ellsworth becomes the fourth municipality out of seven that have been considering joining the Frenchman Bay Shellfish Conservation District. Ellsworth’s decision is significant, officials say, because it will serve as the chief administrating entity for the district.
Janet Toth, Ellsworth’s community development coordinator, said the city plans to hire a shellfish warden for the district and to begin selling commercial shellfish harvesting licenses in June. District residents who want to buy recreational licenses will have to do so at their local town office, she said.
The towns of Franklin, Hancock and Lamoine also have decided to join the district. Other towns that are expected to vote on the measure are Sorrento, Sullivan and Trenton.
Joe Porada, a shellfish harvester in Hancock who has spearheaded the effort to create the district, said Sullivan residents are expected to vote April 26 whether to join. Sorrento will hold its vote May 3, and Trenton will vote May 22, he said.
“I’m confident in Sullivan and reasonably confident in the other two as well,” Porada said Tuesday.
He said the four towns that have voted to join the district could move ahead on their own if the other towns decide not to join.
The effort to create the multitown district, which would be only the second one in Maine, began last summer after red tide closures along much of the coast prompted many diggers to descend on Hancock County, where no closures were in effect. According to state law, anyone with a state shellfish harvesting license is allowed to harvest shellfish in any town that does not have its own shellfish ordinance. None of the Frenchman Bay area towns has its own ordinance, leaving many local diggers upset that the resource was not being reserved for local residents.
Many towns do not have their own ordinances because state law also requires those that do to hire a warden to enforce the ordinance, an expense many towns try to avoid. But by creating a seven-town district, the member towns in the Frenchman Bay area can share the costs of drafting a shared ordinance and of hiring a warden, and can reserve most of the district’s licenses for their residents.
Toth said Tuesday that creating the district makes sense because it helps reserve the resource and the money it generates for local residents. It also gives local diggers more of a sense of ownership and stewardship in the local clam flats. The idea for creating the district, she said, came from the area’s clamming community.
“How often does an industry bring seven communities together?” Toth said. “It’s awesome.”