Feds Plan to Shrink Shellfishing Areas

            The Marion Marine Resources Commission wants some explanation after hearing that the federal government plans to cut down on the spaces allowed for shellfishing along the eastern seaboard, including specific application to the town’s inner harbor.

            Aquaculture has already been a challenge for licensed shellfishermen, between delays relating to the coronavirus pandemic and the Board of Selectmen’s recent request for an overhaul of Marion’s rules and regulations.

            Predictably, the February 22 meeting of the MRC was wrought with frustration.

            Deputy Harbormaster/Shellfish Officer Adam Murphy asked Harbormaster Isaac Perry to speak about the latter’s message from the Division of Marine Fisheries during his Saturday visit with state representatives.

            “Some new regulations are coming down that are going to kind of cut short some of our available shellfish area,” said Perry.

            Marion’s inner harbor hosts 20 or more boats in its main mooring fields that are larger than typical center-console boats. Those vessels are considered to be too close to shellfish areas, and the result will be a restriction on shellfish areas in the town’s inner harbor.

            Perry said that the area of the harbor from Black’s Point to the southern end of Mitton’s flats would be severely limited in the amount of shellfishing allowed. “This is all preliminary,” he said, noting that no official mandates have come down from the federal government as of yet. “This is something that’s coming; we don’t have a choice…. We are going to lose about a half-mile of viable shellfish shoreline to these new regulations. The effect on that grant [is] going to be problematic.”

            MRC Chairman Vin Malkoski concurred, saying, “If the close line extends into that grant, aquaculture can no longer be conducted.”

            MRC member Toby Burr said, “We’ve been fishing those shores for over 100 years. What makes them so sure they should shut them down (without comments from the locals)?”

            Perry said he first heard of the restriction three to four weeks ago but anticipates it over the next couple of months. “It’s kind of a surprise when it came in that we’re going to be losing these areas…. I share your concern,” he said.

            MRC member Scott Cowell has attended Zoom meetings with Duxbury and Plymouth fishermen and reports strong discontent.

            “Maybe we should be writing our congressman,” suggested Burr.

            Andrew Bonney, who attended the meeting, asked permission to speak and said, “It’s appropriate for this community to ask questions about it rather than just accepting…. As a Marine Resources Commission, it would be totally in your wheelhouse and engage Congressman (Bill) Keating.”

            Not only are shellfishing areas shrinking, so is the footprint for the proposed Harbormaster’s facility from 5,600 square feet to 2,600.

            “My only concern is the facility we finish with does not jeopardize any of the work that you guys and the Marion Police Department has to have in space,” said MRC member Peter Borsari.

            “The total footprint is down quite a bit,” said Perry, explaining that the most noticeable revision is in the subtraction of decking and public bathrooms in favor of some other options. “It’s just a draft at this point, so I want to make sure I have all the language nailed down.”

            In his report, Perry said he is working with Malkoski, Town Administrator Jay McGrail, and Building Commissioner Scott Shippey and has tentatively set March 16 as a date for presentation to the Board of Selectmen. Perry said he would provide a frequently-asked-questions document, why the facility is needed, its revised size, and what has changed since the last proposal.

            Perry planned not to wait on petitioning the selectmen during their Tuesday meeting to extend the three current licenses that are held in good standing by one year so as not to hold them up from operation.

            The Island Wharf pump-out shed has been rebuilt, but winter weather has stalled aesthetic completions.

            Pandemic-related delays have stalled the completion of a couple of new 6-by-20-foot floats by a month. Perry said they are waiting on hardware from a supplier. “They were missed, but … there was no one coming or going that couldn’t tie-up,” he said.

            A pump-out grant of an additional $15,000 for calendar year 2022 is likely, according to Perry, with a six-month window in which the town can finance the replacement of an outboard motor on the pump-out boat. Perry said he still intends on taking the original $16,000 request to Town Meeting, but plans on taking that figure down to $5,000 on Town Meeting floor “once we’re sure” the town will receive the $15,000 pump-out grant.

            The Kittansett Club’s apparent interest in a potential pier with moorings attached motivated the MRC to discuss a commercial mooring moratorium that has been in place for the last 30 years. “It’s worth taking another look at it,” said Perry. “There’s a lot of interest out there.”

            The next meeting of the Marion Marine Resources Commission is scheduled for Monday, March 15.

Marion Marine Resources Commission

By Mick Colageo

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