FREEPORT — A local woman is leading an effort to get municipalities to share ideas and resources to improve shellfishing practices along the coast. 

Jessica Joyce of Tidal Bay Consulting, which works with clients on fisheries policy and environmental impact assessments, began meeting with industry officials in other other towns in March to see if there was interest in creating a multi-community working group. 

Jessica Joyce of Tidal Bay Consulting. Courtesy Gulf of Maine Research Institute

So far, the group includes the towns of Freeport, Scarborough, Brunswick, Harpswell and Yarmouth. Joyce said she hopes communities as far south as Biddeford and as far north as Georgetown will join. 

“We feel it’ll be good to know what other municipalities around us are doing for shellfish management,” Paul Plummer, harbormaster and marine resource administrator for the town of Harpswell said in an email Aug. 12. “Every town is different on how they manage their flats, but if the ideas are never shared, then they are never tried.” 

Joyce has worked in federal and regional fisheries management. She said she noticed a lack of organization and communication between states and municipalities when she was on the Cumberland Shellfish Conservation Commission from 2008-2018. 

“From my perspective, this needed some changes in order to move with the changing environment that we’re living in,” she said. “Some towns have done a lot and others can learn, but there’s no structure for town communication. 

“What I’ve been doing since March is going around to each of the town committees and introducing this concept to see if they would be interested in participating,” Joyce said. “The towns are supportive, and there are people that are interested in being a part of this. It does not require any monetary commitment from the towns; they would only be volunteering their time to attend meetings.” 

Funding is from a $17,000 grant from the Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation. It includes meeting costs and stipends for time participants spend at meetings or related activities. 

In Harpswell, Plummer’s role will mainly consist of passing ideas and concepts along to the town’s Board of Selectmen and Marine Resource Committee.

Joyce said similar efforts in the past have failed because the initiatives have relied on volunteer efforts. 

She said a similar model was used in the early 2000s with more focus on policy and state regulations. The group was called the Casco Bay Regional Shellfish Council and was part of a larger effort to help shellfish managers and towns share information more easily and coordinate large-scale efforts to improve shellfish rules, regulations and legislation. 

The group did not receive funding and relied on volunteers, said Dan Devereaux, Brunswick’s Coastal Resource Manager and Harbor Master. The towns of Brunswick and Yarmouth provided all of the staff support but lost all assistance when the economy began to decline, he said. The group eventually disbanded. 

The date for an initial meeting has not been set because most people in the industry work during the summer. Joyce said she hopes to have a meeting this fall. 

“Our goal for the first meeting is to hear what other towns are working on,” Joyce said. “A lot of towns talk about very similar issues. We want to let each town explain what they are working on, as well as allow them to brainstorm topics that we can collaborate on and really look at on a more regional level.” 

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