The Wellfleet Shellfishermen's Farmers Market will be back in the Fall. In the meantime, please patronize our market sponsor Cape Tip Seafood in Truro or Orleans or Holbrook Oyster in Eastham for Wellfleet's finest shellfish.

A Perfect and Comprehensive OP Ed from the Cape Cod Times on the commoditization of Aquaculture Leases

"When a person buys a package store, there is a general understanding that, although not guaranteed, the town-issued liquor license is part of the bargain. After all, buying a store that sells beer, wine, and spirits only to discover that you can no longer sell any of those things seems like a pretty bad investment. Not surprisingly, given that towns often limit the number of such licenses in any given community, the value of the license is substantial. Still, the power to transfer the license itself remains squarely in the hands of the issuing authority, thus preventing profiteering.

Much the same can be said when it comes to aquaculture. Under current regulations, a town issues a lease or grant to a shellfisherman. If that person gives up the license, it can be transferred to another fisherman according to local bylaws, but not at a profit. The general idea is that although a private endeavor, the person is benefiting from a public resource, and therefore cannot generate profit other than through their own use of that resource.

Now, however, some in the state Legislature are hoping to allow those who hold shellfish licenses to orchestrate private sales of those same licenses, raising concerns as to how towns could maintain control over how those rights are meted out.

The bill, proposed by state Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, would essentially allow those who hold an aquaculture license to sell and transfer that license to the highest bidder, regardless of whether that bidder is a nonresident or a corporation. The bill has found support from the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association, as it would allow shellfishermen to accrue value in their business, a distinct financial advantage if the person wants to look for financing or decides to sell the business.

Many, however, have raised questions about what would amount to an abdication of local control over the use of a publicly shared resource. This includes not only local shellfishermen, but also state lawmakers, including state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro. At a public hearing in Wellfleet last month, some noted that those who currently hold licenses understood the terms when they took on their grants, while others voiced concern that grants could end up in the hands of the highest bidder, potentially squeezing out locals who live in these communities.

That heightened level of concern is particularly acute in Wellfleet, which earlier this year combined $1 million in local funds with a $1 million donation by Select Board member Helen Miranda Wilson to purchase 25.5 acres of tidal salt marsh, 11 beach lots totaling 3.42 acres, and approximately 131 acres of tidal flats, partially for the purpose of preserving local aquaculture grants.

Peake noted that although the bill is under consideration by the House Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, it will likely head out for study before it goes any further. She described this process as roughly the equivalent of the bill being placed in a graveyard.

That said, a future session of the Legislature could potentially revisit the bill for consideration. That is why it is crucial that local shellfishermen, local governments, and state lawmakers line up against it to ensure that it goes down to defeat. Although shellfishermen have the right to build their businesses, they must do so on their own merits rather than on the back of publicly owned resources. Furthermore, if this bill were to become law, local shellfishermen could easily see grants quickly spiral out of financial reach, leaving them high and dry.

Although the new license owners would be subject to the same regulations as those who currently hold them, there is something unsettling about people who do not live in a town directly profiting from the natural resources owned by that same community. Cutler’s bill may come from a desire to create some sense of economic stability for an industry where such security is often lacking, but asking local taxpayers to potentially foot the bill for outside interests without any local compensation or control goes too far."

Read on Cape Cod Times