MRC Questions Drag on Aquaculture Licensing

            Marion Harbormaster Isaac Perry and Deputy Harbormaster/Shellfish Officer Adam Murphy have their work cut out.

            In the aftermath of Shea Doonan’s pulled aquaculture license, the two have worked countless hours cleaning up Doonan’s former gear and product. But they cannot bring closure with a new licensee because the town’s Board of Selectmen wants a reset on rules and regulations before its members will consider candidates to take over the site. So reported Perry and Murphy to the Marion Marine Resources Commission during the latter’s January 18 Zoom meeting.

            The applicants for the site have been notified. “They’re obviously not too happy about that,” said Murphy, noting the timeline has all but ruled out a new license holder capitalizing in 2021.

            It cost $11,000 to clean up Doonan’s sites.

            “When landing the shellfish, they’re required to call us and report,” said Murphy. “Shea Doonan was a perfect example…. He never reported a single thing. It was a shock what was out there and the disarray it was in…. I’d like to give my recommendation from other towns on what seems to work before we put the cart ahead of the horse here, and I’m in the same mess again.”

            In a previous meeting, the Board of Selectmen asked for research on other towns, some of which require aquaculture applicants to post a bond in case of such an event as what happened in Doonan’s case so the town would be guaranteed the necessary money to perform a cleanup. Perry explained that there are differences in aquaculture licensing practices from Wellfleet to Rhode Island. One potential tweak in the regulations would deem the product to be considered part of the gear for the purpose of pulling it out of the water on a timely basis.

            “I see two big things, what I believe they’re looking to get out of this,” said Perry, reporting on his meeting with the selectmen. “Some type of bond,” and secondly, an increase in the annual license fee. Presently, Marion charges a state-mandated fee of $25/acre; since Marion awards half-acre sites, that amount translates into $12.50 per year for the mooring permit under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 91, Section 10A.

            “I’m sure there’s a lot of other things we’ll look at, but those are the two big-ticket items,” said Perry, who submitted an invoice to the Board of Selectmen for the Doonan site cleanup. “We’re waiting on the decision if that invoice is going to be sent.”

            MRC Chairman Vin Malkoski restated the MRC’s opinion that the invoice should be sent and asked Perry and Murphy why a proposed increase in fees. Murphy said that much of the work performed comes out of the Harbormaster’s budget, including site visits by agencies.

            “It’s basically to offset the amount of effort,” said Murphy, noting that the 2021 season will be more expensive with predator nets for birds. “There’s a lot more things coming down the pike that are going to take a lot of time,” he said.

            The delay and uncertainty didn’t sit well with member Scott Cowell, who felt that the local government is holding the applicants hostage. “Especially after this year when the industry has taken such a hit … I feel they should issue the permits, and the people that have them have to abide by them,” he said. “Right now, they should be ordering their seed for February.”

            “It’s almost too late at this point,” said Perry.

            Member Toby Burr asked if bonds are retroactive to existing licenses, but Perry said it’s all in the conversation stage right now. Murphy added that new regulations would not hold up existing license holders in good standing. “This isn’t going to affect them. The Board of Selectmen wants to grandfather them,” said Murphy. “Those existing sites can function as they have been. I’m going to send them all a letter on what we can expect for the 2021 season. Once we revise the regulations, we’re going to let them know.”

            In light of the questions, Perry suggested that the MRC write the selectmen a letter asking for more specific concerns to guide the review and revision process more effectively.

            The next regular meeting of the MRC is set for February 22, but the members voted to meet on February 8 to discuss aquaculture regulations. Murphy will email the MRC with examples of what other towns are doing.

            Perry also reported that Officer Dave Wilson completed his field training with the Marion Police Department. Last week was Wilson’s first with the Harbormasters office, and he still needs to take his shellfish course. “He’s getting a lot of on-the-job training,” said Perry.

            Perry also told the MRC that he has completed commercial regulations but has not submitted them. Malkoski agreed with Perry that a face-to-face meeting is better, “But we need to get [the regulations] to the Board of Selectmen.” Perry indicated he would get that information to the selectmen this week.

            Under the Harbor Management and Capital Projects report, Perry expects to have a rendering of the proposed new Harbormaster’s facility from the architect over the next two weeks. He reported working on the FY22 budget and said he is looking to add another $1,000 to the motor-vehicle line item. Perry expected to meet this week with the Finance Committee with a plan to get a budget to the MRC by the weekend.

            The Atlantis Drive renting situation, said Perry, has become difficult. The Harbormaster is storing a patrol boat at the facility formerly owned by the town. “I foresee us without a maintenance facility for a few years until the town can get all those pieces,” he said. “In the short term, we’ll make it work; we always do.”

            Town Meeting approved an appropriation to cover the loss of an outboard motor on the town’s patrol boat, but Perry said the engine likely wouldn’t become available until March. The new motor will go on another single-engine workboat that remains in service at Island Wharf, and the engine from that boat would be then transferred to the patrol boat.

            The next meeting of the Marion Marine Resources Commission is scheduled for February 8.

Marion Marine Resources Commission

By Mick Colageo

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