AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill designed to help control the spread of invasive green crabs died Thursday when the Senate failed to override a veto issued by Gov. Paul LePage.
Democratic Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, who sponsored the bill, said the veto has squandered years of work and resources dedicated to reversing the takeover of valuable shellfish flats by invasive green crabs. The bill would have extended a pilot program to study ways to eradicate them.
LD 435 received unanimous support on both the Marine Resources Committee and in the full Legislature earlier this year but was vetoed by LePage last week. The bill sought to extend the municipal predator control project, which allowed the study and implementation of measures to rid mudflats of invasive green crabs and bolster the population of valuable shellfish and marine worms, until November 2016.
Essentially, the bill would have restored the closure of certain mudflats to clam and worm harvesting to make way for more data collection.
The Senate voted 16-19 to sustain LePage’s veto of the measure on Thursday. The vote was along party lines, except for Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, who voted with Democrats in favor of overturning the veto. Voting against it was Marine Resources Committee Chairwoman Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, who represents several coastal communities. She said in a written statement that the bill served no purpose “other than political rhetoric.”
“We need to stop wasting people’s time and money on efforts that sound good in Augusta but have no actual, practical benefit for Mainers,” she said. “Of course, I am in favor of efforts to support our shellfish economy, but we must make sure such efforts are useful, necessary and effective.”
In his May 1 veto letter, LePage said he didn’t support the bill that originally created the pilot project and vetoed this year’s proposed extension because he believes its continuation is unnecessary.
“The pilot project has been conducted and the data has been gathered,” LePage wrote. “Let’s react to the data, not simply continue to extend this pilot ad infinitum.”
LePage also criticized municipalities that, according to his letter, have invested in shellfish seeding efforts in anticipation of the pilot project being extended.
“That is unfortunate that these decisions were made before the legislation was enacted,” the governor wrote.
Gerzofsky said in a written statement that he is disappointed that the bipartisanship that has been associated with this issue ended Thursday.
“If we want to have clams this summer then we need to do something to protect Maine’s shellfish industry,” Gerzofsky said. “Furthermore, there is so much on the line for the many hard-working Maine people who rely on this industry to make a living.”
Dan Devereaux, marine resources officer in Brunswick, said Thursday that from his perspective, valuable data has already been collected and mudflat protection measures implemented.
“When it comes down to predation, we’ve done everything we can in the pilot project that we’re allowed to do,” he said. “Even if the bill was passed, we probably would not have committed to another extensive predation study.”
Gerzofsky disagreed that more study isn’t warranted.
“We, as a state, have a responsibility to ensure sustainability for this key Maine industry by investing in and protecting it for future generations,” he said. “If nothing is done to adequately protect our intertidal areas from green crabs, it will not be long before there is nothing left to harvest.”
Softshell clam harvests in Maine dropped from 11.1 million pounds in 2012 to 10.6 million pounds in 2013. The drop was attributed largely to the spread of green crabs, though Devereaux said there are not as many now as there once were.
According to the Maine Clammers’ Association, clamming employs more than 1,500 people in Maine and pays them nearly $30 million in total.