The Marion Marine Resources Commission spent over two hours on Monday night at the Marion Police Station pouring through final revisions of aquaculture regulations that have not been changed in a quarter century.
The goal was to put a wrap on the process and vote to approve for recommendation to the Select Board, but the June 21 meeting led to further discussion and tweaks.
One major change that came out of the discussion is the opportunity that aquaculture license holders will have to acquire more than the half-acre plots presently allotted.
Regulation No. 6, heretofore limiting license holders to half-acre sites, proposes a 3-acre limit. If approved, over the first year the town will authorize usage of only a half an acre of the site. A license holder approved for a larger site such as 3 acres would still be responsible during that initial year of non-usage beyond a half an acre to pay $75 based on the town’s $25 per acrefee. Harbormaster Isaac Perry pointed out that they need to pay $400 on top of that for the mooring permit.
“If they choose to have an operation, it would behoove the town to have them look for a 3 acre site and have it surveyed,” said Deputy Harbormaster and Shellfish Officer Adam Murphy, who summarized the responsibility of a new applicant to plot out the area, conduct an eelgrass check, and their ability to avoid repeated applications for expansion.
MRC member Scott Cowell, also a shellfish farmer, objected to a 3-acre maximum. “The average kelp farm is 25 acres…. You’re restricting and restricting and restricting and I don’t go along with that,” he said.
Perry said there has got to be a limit for Marion, and MRC Chair Vin Malkoski agreed. “There’s only so much pie out there,” said Malkoski. “If everybody’s just a little bit unhappy, we’re just about there.”
Regulation No. 1 was loosened from a license holder’s requirement of three years’ experience to three years’ experience or education, a prerequisite for consideration in Regulation No. 2. But business owner Chris Bryant of Bryant Brothers Shellfish Company said he cannot afford to hire somebody for three years, so they get experience and then get the license. “If I’m sitting on a half an acre, who from Marion (or Rochester) is going to be able to buy my unit?”
Malkoski said he would have some concern about “somebody who’s only got education and has never operated a grant.”
Perry said the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries considers Marion’s half-acre sites to be “hobbyist” as opposed to full-blown business operations.
Upon research of other towns’ practices, Murphy proposed a revision for Regulation 3 requiring farmers to get three quotes to clean up a site because not one size fits all, and instead structure “a minimum value of $200 for an annual bond” based on the price of an insurance policy against a worst-case scenario. If a fisherman has no or poor credit, it will cost more to clean up. Cowell suggested replacing the amount with a number as “determined by the Board of Selectmen.”
In answer to Cowell, Perry told the MRC that his and Murphy’s contracts expire in two weeks and that the Harbormaster will fall under the town’s employee policy effective July 1 (FY22).
“Being an employee at-will is problematic,” said Perry. “As an employee at-will, we will not be using our discretion as freely as we have.”
Cowell and other MRC members recommended forming a statement to town administration objecting to the change.
The MRC’s next scheduled meeting is July 19, but a special Zoom meeting is anticipated before then to finalize aquaculture regulations.
Marion Marine Resources Commission
By Mick Colageo