CUTLER — Better than expected prices for clams early last year saw Cutler quickly sell out its quota of 44 resident commercial clam harvesting licenses. The quick sale left some Cutler diggers high and dry and unable to obtain a town license.
As a result, the Cutler Clam Committee has upped the number of resident commercial licenses to be sold this year to 50. In addition, the town’s shellfish ordinance has been amended to allow resident commercial and recreational clam diggers older than 65 and younger than 18 to dig clams without a town license.
According to the Cutler Clam Committee’s annual report, increasing the number of available tags and deleting the license requirement for certain age groups, should result in there being enough licenses for any resident who wants one. The town’s shellfish ordinance was amended on Jan. 20.
Two years ago the committee recommended that only 24 resident and two non-resident licenses be sold. The decision sparked a storm of protest by angry clam diggers at the annual town meeting, and resulted in the town receiving approval by the Department of Marine Resources to increase the number of licenses to 34 resident and four non resident tags.
In 1992 the number of resident licenses was increased to 44, with four non-resident licenses offered for sale.
Article 21 of the annual meeting warrant to be considered at 7 p.m. Monday, March 22, at Bay Ridge School in Cutler, calls for 50 resident and five non-resident commercial licenses to be offered. As in last year, no limits are being placed on the number of resident recreational licenses — the so-called “peck-a-day” licenses — that can be sold.
If approved, the town clerk will begin issuing resident commercial licenses on Friday, March 26. Cutler diggers will be allowed to exercise their license beginning April 1.
Non-resident licenses will be sold by lottery at 10 a.m. Friday, March 26, with an effective date of April 1.
Fees, as set by the committee in January, are $20.25 for resident commercial and resident recreational licenses, and $40.25 for non-resident commercial licenses.
The article also seeks to continue a conservation-based closure of clam flats in Little Machias Bay situated midway between Lobster Ledge Bar and Widow’s Ledge Bar, 800 feet from the high water mark.
The area, marked with painted stakes, extends 1,000 feet south, 400 feet east, 1,000 feet north and 400 feet west, and was initially approved at the March 1992 annual town meeting. The closure began on April 1, 1992 and is projected to remain in effect through March 21, 1995.
Cutler’s clam industry has rebounded in recent years, thanks to conservation efforts that included selected clam bed closures for re-seeding. However, those efforts suffered a potentially serious blow on March 6 and 7, as the much touted “storm of the century” saw billions of young seed clams plowed up from shellfish beds at Little Machias Bay.
The unusual natural event was caused by a powerful combination of rock-hard ice cakes, carried on the shoulders of enormous waves. Ice, driven into the predominantly sandy bed, scooped out the mollusks, leaving foot-deep gouges and scattering the clams over a nearly half-mile section of tidal flats.
Exposed clams were found frozen into a blanket of ice by local clam diggers as the tide retreated to the outer bay. Clams deposited into the tidal waters of Turner Stream did not freeze and were therefore spared. It could be months, and possibly several years, before the full impact of the storm on the local clam industry, is known.