ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Clammers and environmentalists are at odds over legislation moving through the Maryland General Assembly that would increase the regulation of hydraulic clam dredges.

Proponents say Senate Bill 629 is aimed at protecting the grass line in the Chesapeake Bay.

Commercial fishermen are calling the bill devastating to their livelihood, while scientists say it’s necessary to save the bay.

The bill calls for regulations and restrictions on hydraulic clam dredges, pushing clammers back an additional 150 feet from the grass line.

Currently, clammers can’t fish in the grass line anyway.

The bill pushes clammers into deeper waters where clams aren’t as plentiful. Fishermen say profits will take a huge hit and might drive them out of business entirely.

Rob Newberry represents the hundreds of clammers that fish soft shell clams for consumption and stout razor clams for bait. He’s opposed to Senate Bill 629.

“We are taking hit upon hit and it’s got to stop,” Newberry said.

The health of the Chesapeake Bay is the goal for opposing sides of this bill. Environmentalists say clammers turning soil is the problem. The clammers, meanwhile, say if anything, they’re the first line of defense.

A state fiscal and policy analysis of the bill found it would likely cost the state at least $30,000 in Fiscal Year 2021, the majority of which would cover the cost of hiring a part-time staffer to implement the bill. Those costs could be offset by decreased spending on buoys.

The fiscal note also found clammers “may be meaningfully affected to the extent the bill results in a reduction in areas in which a hydraulic clam dredge, a traditional bottom dredge, and a shinnecock rake can otherwise be used, in a given year, in the absence of the bill.”

WJZ reached out to Shore Rivers, the environmental group supporting the bill. Their representatives were tied up in hearings and did not immediately respond to a request for comments.

If approved, the bill would take effect on July 1.

Rachael Cardin

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