A proposal to amend the Harpswell Shellfish Ordinance would create a new category of license in response to what the harbor master describes as a “workforce housing crisis” pressuring harvesters to move out of town.

“This is to help with the housing — we’ll call it a workforce housing crisis in Harpswell,” Harpswell Harbor Master and Marine Resources Administrator Paul Plummer said at a public hearing on Feb. 10. As harvesters struggle to either buy or rent, “this would allow them an opportunity to transition their resident license to a nonresident license,” he said.

“They’d pay the nonresident fee, but the stipulation is, they would have had to have lived in Harpswell and maintained a resident license for at least five years to qualify for this,” Plummer added. The harvester would have to notify the town clerk of the move within 30 days.

If a harvester later gives up what the amendment calls a “Resident Commercial to Non Resident License,” it would revert to a resident license.

Without the new category, a clammer who moves out of town must obtain a nonresident license, which can take years. The town issues six nonresident licenses and harvesters can renew their licenses.

Harpswell always has more demand for both resident and nonresident commercial licenses than it has licenses available, according to Plummer. The town clerk conducts a lottery each year to determine each applicant’s position on the waitlist for each license type.

State law sets the number of nonresident commercial licenses at 10% or more of the number of resident commercial licenses. The Harpswell Marine Resources Committee sets the number of resident commercial licenses each year in coordination with a biologist from the Maine Department of Marine Resources. In 2021, the number was 49.

“A commercial or recreational harvester can be expected to harvest a certain volume of shellfish per year; therefore, the number of harvesters must be controlled to preserve the shellfish resource,” the ordinance states.

The amendment to the ordinance needs approval from the commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources and from voters at the annual town meeting by referendum on April 23. The town of Freeport adopted a similar program with state approval, Plummer said.

In addition to the new category of license, the amendment contains one other change, which would exempt students from a requirement to provide three proofs of residency before obtaining a student license.

A grant from the Broad Reach Fund supports the Harpswell Anchor’s reporting on the working waterfront.