In a move to protect the county’s watermen industry, the Kent Commissioners on Tuesday passed a measure that will allow commercial watermen to transfer their public boat slip leases to other watermen who hold a commercial seafood license. 

The motion is in addition to a current policy that allows watermen to transfer their slip leases to family members — and recognizes trends that show slips going to pleasure boats and yachts when the slips become vacant.

“The local people are losing the use of the slips a little at a time,” Commissioner Ron Fithian said at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting. “It’s like a death by 1,000 cuts.”

Kent County’s public slips are a lure for pleasure boaters from other states in the region because of the relatively low cost.

Fithian said that a lot of watermen may not have a son or daughter to transfer their slips to and that the motion needed to pass to allow transfer of a slip to another waterman who holds a commercial license.

The vote came after considerable sparring with the County’s attorney, Tom Yeager, who thought the motion should be delayed because of complications that could arise from making the slips a tradable commodity.

“If you’re going to do this you need to have some type of parameters because you may have unintended consequences,” Yeager said.

Fithian, along with Commissioner Bob Jacob and Commissioner President Tom Mason, thought Yeager was making it more complicated than it had to be.

“I think we have the authority,” Fithian responded. “We had the authority to say you could transfer a [slip] to a family member, so I think we have the authority to say you can transfer it” to someone with a commercial seafood license.” 

After considerable sparring with Yeager the commissioners all agreed that language could be adopted that makes a slip transfer from one commercial waterman to another very simple — and without loopholes that would make the slips become a commodity.

“I think it was pretty specific when you say you have to have a commercial waterman’s license,” Jacob said.

Mason said it was important to support the county’s waterman and that Yeager should simply draft the language by the next meeting to carry out the commissioners’ intentions.

In a moment of frustration with Yeager, Fithian reminded Yeager that decisions about governance rest with the elected officials.

“There’s only three people in this whole building that were sent here by the public to represent them,” Fithan said. He said if there is a problem with the language regarding the slips the commissioners could come back and amend it.

“We want to support an industry that has been a way of life for generations of families here in the county and also encourage others who want to continue to make their living on the Bay,” said Fithian in an interview on Thursday. 

Feature Image Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr