Clam farming banned on bottom and beaches of Kachemak Bay

Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer has signed new regulations banning shellfish farming on the beaches and sea floor of Kachemak Bay and the Fox River Flats.

The Administrative Regulations Review Committee, a newly revived panel that includes legislative members, plans to review the rules.

The regulations, which take effect April 12, will continue to allow shellfish cultures in hanging nets and baskets, said Claudia Slater, a habitat biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game.

The ban on on-bottom farms is a reaction to the shellfish farm applications the state received in 1999, she said. That was the last time applications were taken for Kachemak Bay.

The 1999 applications included several allowing the growth of littleneck clams on state-owned beaches.

''They'd lease a beach through the Department of Natural Resources. They may or may not seed that beach with additional clams. If they seed, when they harvest, they would harvest both seeded clams and wild clams,'' Slater said. ''Members of the public would not be allowed on clam farms.

''The littlenecks in Kachemak Bay are fully allocated and utilized. Concerns were raised by the public and by the department that if we allow on-bottom mariculture of littleneck clams, that would require reallocating and taking clams away from commercial and sport users.''

The Alaska Legislature created the Kachemak Bay and Fox River Flats critical habitat areas to protect habitat and the fish and wildlife that need it.

The nets clam farmers spread to protect their stock would eliminate habitat for such clam-eating predators as scoters, eiders, otters and starfish, Slater said.

''A clam farmer may not care about a scoter, but the Legislature did,'' she told the Peninsula Clarion.

Allowing on-the-bottom clam farms would be inconsistent with the purposes of the critical habitat areas, Slater said.

Fish and Game also is concerned that privatizing public clam beaches would violate the Alaska Constitution, which reserves fish, wildlife and waters for the common use of everyone, she said.

The original management plans for the Kachemak Bay and Fox River Flats said critical habitat areas would address shellfish farms, but people thought only of suspended shellfish farms when they were written, and not about the on-bottom variety, she said.

''So, when the department received the applications for on-bottom farms, we had some homework to do,'' Slater said.

Fish and Game began looking into on-bottom farms in September 1999 and took public comments and held public meetings in the winter of 1999-2000. It took public comments again last fall.

''A clear majority of Alaskans support these regulations to prohibit on-bottom farming on wild clam beds,'' said Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue.

Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, said the statutes that defined the critical habitat areas did not address on-bottom mariculture.

''Now, they're trying to write the regulations after the fact. They're making it up as they go along, for political reasons,'' Scalzi said. ''It doesn't matter what we do with the regulations.

''Fish and Game or (Gov. Tony) Knowles or whoever is making the decision is banning clam farming in Kachemak Bay.''

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