Waterways Regulation Review Highlights Need For Bylaw Changes

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing , Waterways

Commercial fishing boats.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – After nearly two years of work, consolidated waterways regulations were approved last week by the waterways advisory committee. The final draft will now go back to the board of selectmen before being adopted by the harbormaster.

A theme that emerged from the committee's hearing on the draft last Thursday was the need to take a look at the waterways bylaw, the override authority under which the new regulations are promulgated. At this point, however, the committee has not been tasked by selectmen with reviewing the bylaw, said chairman Peter Taylor.

“We're not discussing the bylaw,” he said when cutting off comments being made by Joel Rotner of the summer residents advisory committee.

While much of the substance of the bylaw is incorporated into the new regulations – which consolidate waterways, fish pier and mooring regulations into a single document – they are not the same. “Regulations and bylaws do not have to be verbatim a replication of each other,” said Dr. Robert Duncanson, director of natural resources. “If they were, we wouldn't need both.” The bylaw, he explained, provides a general policy direction while the regulations are the manner by which the bylaw is implemented.

Yet there are elements of the bylaw that bear examination, committee members agreed. Rotner pointed out some inconsistencies between the bylaw and regulations, as did fisherman and Aunt Lydia's Cove committee member Darren Saletta, who was specifically concerned about the commercial fishing classification . Under the consolidated regulations, a commercial fishing classification applies to a fisherman who derives “no less than 75 percent of their income from commercial fin fishing, lobstering or shellfishing as his/her principal occupation.”

The definition was changed about a decade ago, Taylor said, when officials realized that moorings were being lost to recreational boaters. Those who meet the commercial fishing classification have a priority for moorings in certain areas; otherwise, he said, “it's just one large pool of moorings.”

Saletta said the definition does not include activities like charter fishing and should be modified to incorporate others fishing-related work. Luther Bates, head of the town's economic development committee and a commercial fisherman for 25 years, agreed, explaining that the variety of work that many fishermen have to do to make ends meet sometimes puts them outside of the 75 percent threshold.

“You can't just fish and only fish,” he said, adding that the restriction has a greater impact on younger people who are relatively new to commercial fishing.

The regulation, Bates said, is more strict than the bylaw, which allows income from fishing-related activities to be included in meeting the 75 percent threshold. He suggested the definition be changed and that another criteria be used, such as an Aunt Lydia's Cove docking permit or the volume of landings.

Shellfish Advisory Committee Chairman Jamie Bassett said he doesn't meet the current definition and suggested another option is to rely on catch reports fishermen must file with the state division of marine fisheries.

“We need to have this discussion,” Taylor agreed.

Other suggestions offered at the hearing for tweaking the draft regulations included tightening up the rule that allows a mooring to go unused for two years, and having the approval authority be the board of selectmen rather than the harbormaster.

Duncanson said many of the suggestions made last week and at a workshop with the board of selectmen two weeks ago will be incorporated into the final draft. Harbormaster Stuart Smith said he saw few substantial changes.

“A lot of what we've heard deals with the bylaw,” he said. “That's a legitimate discussion, but that was not the charge give to this committee.”

Some of the criticisms of the bylaw could impact the regulations, Duncanson said, but while changes to the bylaw require a town meeting vote, changes to the regulations can be adopted by the harbormaster after a hearing by the waterways advisory committee.

Duncanson said the new consolidated regulations will go back to the board of selectmen within the next few weeks and will be in place for the upcoming boating season. A review of suggested changes to the waterways bylaw is likely to begin in the fall, he added.