The Block Island Times

Shellfish Commission looks at licenses and budget

Vote needed to renew licenses
By Renée Meyer | Nov 22, 2013

On Tuesday Nov 19, the Shellfish Commission, at its regular monthly meeting tackled two issues: the renewal of commercial shellfishing licenses and the  budget for the upcoming fiscal year. First up were the license renewals.

Commissioner Lois Bendokas noted that due to a “new rule of necessity,” the town clerk’s office had informed her that the commission needed to vote to renew commercial shellfishing licenses, something that they had previously not been required to do. The commission had 10 license renewal applications at the time of the meeting, but Harbormaster Steve Land noted that a few additional people were apt to apply. When asked what the deadline was, Land responded that it was January and that last year 14 commercial licenses were issued, out of a limit of 20.

As commission members Jon Grant and Joe Fallon were among the applicants, they recused themselves from the vote, leaving the only other members present, Bendokas and Gempp, to vote.

Gempp said: “We approve the list. However, all must provide a 2014 state of Rhode Island license first.” Motions were made and approved to renew all of the license applications before them.

Then the discussion turned to the subject of the licenses themselves. Land said that the paper license was bulky and that holders were reluctant to carry them with them in case they got wet. Commissioners discussed using a smaller license, such as the ones issued for recreational shell fishing, only with the letter “C” written on them. However, it was noted that the actual licenses are issued by the Town Clerk’s office and they weren’t willing to work with a smaller format. In the end, commission members suggested that the Town Clerk’s office could issue the license which could then simply be taken to the Harbormaster’s office where Administrative Assistant Bethanie Rousseau could then issue the smaller license with the “C.”

Anticipating push-back from the clerk’s office, Bendokas told Land that (in his capacity of Harbormaster): “You could just go to your employee and say do it.”

Then the Commission turned to a discussion on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, 2014. Gempp, who had drafted the proposed budget of $37,500, asked for a discussion on what inclusions or deletions should be made.

In perusing the numbers, commissioners and Land first discussed the $10,000 set aside for the shellfish transplant program. Land noted that in fiscal year 2013, $11,000 had been spent on transplants. Gempp noted that the commission “always had a carryover” from June 30 (the end of the fiscal year) into the following July, when the actual transplanting is performed. Land replied that “you couldn’t,” because all monies had to be expended by June 30, but Bendokas disagreed. She said that it always carries over into July because: “I refuse to fork over five thousand dollars until I know if they are alive.”

Without changing the number budgeted for transplants, commissioners moved onto to the issue of signage. In their last meeting, all had agreed that enhanced signage to address the disposal of fish carcasses in and around the Great Salt Pond was needed, and that the signage for soft-shelled clamming areas as well as pond closure areas needed to be redone. Grant thought that more than the $500 proposed was needed and Gempp suggested increasing the line item to $2500.

Then Grant asked if Gempp had taken the increased freight charges (for transplants) by Interstate Navigation into consideration. He responded that he thought he would “just send you over on your boat to bring them back.”

Next, the commission focused on the wage line, for which $12,000 was proposed. Secondary documents breaking down the anticipated wages for a shellfish warden, assistant wardens and a clerk suggested a higher number was needed, and Bendokas asked for more clarification as to who was included. Gempp replied that the number was preliminary, and Land added that the wages would actually be blended in with the Harbor’s Department, and that it actually works out better that way for the Shellfish Commission as it lends them flexibility.

Land also added that the department had increased the number of wardens in the past year and that had worked out quite well as he had gotten a lot of positive feedback on the increase, as in other years people had felt the wardens were not visible enough.

Then Land announced that he was going to throw a monkey wrench into the discussion. Noting that the budget should strive to balance revenues with expenses, he said that so far this fiscal year, 2,517 licenses had been issued for a total revenue amount of $49,364, and that there were still many months to go until July 1. That left a gap between revenues and expense of about $10,000 (to the positive). “Why not shoot for the moon?” Land asked.

Bendokas however felt that if they did that “we’re opening Pandora’s box because not all wages are included.”

Land asked about the line item for conferences which stands at $1,000 and asked if any of the commissioners had attended any, noting that professional development was necessary. Some commissioners noted that they had attended some workshops, but had done so as a personal matter.

Gempp said that summers were too busy for people to attend conferences and that the winter boat schedule made attendance then next to impossible, and usually they aren’t even notified of these until the day before. Grant concurred with the problem of winter travel, saying it “takes five days just to go to a two-hour meeting.”

In the end, the only change put through was the increase of $2,000 for signage and the budget was approved for $39,500.

As a final item, the Bendokas reported in her role as “liaison” noting that she and fellow liaison Pete Tweedy would be attending “on their own dime” a celebration of 40 years of marine biology at Roger Williams University on Dec. 7. The celebration would honor and recognize outstanding members of the faculty and staff for their work in the program.

Roger Williams operates the only shell fish hatchery in the state and in the past few years has conducted a program called Oyster Gardening for Restoration and Enhancement (OGRE). In this program, coastal residents volunteer to grow oyster seed produced by the hatchery. The larvae, using a method called “remote set” are set onto bags containing clam or oyster shells which are then distributed to volunteers that will take care of them over the summer months. When the bags are recovered, the oysters are then available for transplanting. In 2008, Block Island was the recipient of a share of the 800,000 oysters that were also distributed to reef restorations projects in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island’s coastal ponds.

However, the hatchery produces other services for Block Island as well. Grant asked “if we gave them ‘skimmers’ (seaclams) could they produce more for us?” Bendokas said that at the present time, there was a “slight problem with water quality.” One commissioner asked if “size matters,” drawing plenty of chuckles and a few blushed cheeks before the meeting adjourned.

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