Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Duffy has extended the deadline for public comments regarding a proposal to lift the 3-year-old ban on clam farms in the Kachemak Bay and Fox River Flats Critical Habitat areas.
Comments will now be taken through Sept. 15.
Meanwhile, a public hearing on the controversial proposal is scheduled for 5 p.m. today in Homer at the former headquarters of the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve building at 2181 Kachemak Drive.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced its intention to repeal the prohibition in a press release July 19, citing recent interest in revisiting the issue. Duffy is exploring options that would allow on-bottom aquatic farming activities within the critical habitat areas, while establishing safeguards to assure those activities do not unduly impact other resources or fisheries, or that mitigate those impacts, the press release said.
Kerri Tonkin, regulations specialist with the department, said the commissioner extended the comment period by a month after hearing numerous requests from members of the public.
"Apparently its the busy season," Tonkin said. "The commissioner extended the period to accommodate the public. It's not uncommon."
Tonkin would not speculate about how soon after the Sept. 15 comment deadline the commissioner would render a decision.
Among those supporting removing the ban were members of the Kachemak Shellfish Growers Cooperative, which includes 17 farms raising oysters. The cooperative has argued the ban is unreasonable and that they have a ready market for clams.
"The state imports about 1 million pounds (of clams) per year, co-op manager George Overpeck said. "If we could do a little of that, it would sure help."
Two sites have been proposed for future clam farms, including Little Jakolof Bay south of Homer and near Chugachik Island near the head of Kachemak Bay.
Opponents include the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, whose members pointed out that the ban was put in place in 2001 after a two-year public process. Noting the existing healthy harvest of wild clams open to the general public, society board member Willy Dunne said, "It doesn't seem right to lease our birthright to private growers for a few dollars an acre."
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