Mahogany Quahog (Arctica islandica) is one of the longest living animal species in the world. Specimens of over 200 years of age are not unusual, and the oldest known specimen was 507 years old when it was collected alive. This means that many Quahogs that are peacefully filtering water on the ocean bottom right now were alive on December 16, 1773 and probably tasted the tea in the water even if they didn’t know what it was. New England Quahogs are probably the only living creatures that were present for the Boston Tea Party and then lived long enough for the state of Maine to tax them at $1.20 per bushel. It is too bad that this bivalve mollusk can’t appreciate the irony of his situation.
Why did Maine single out Mahogany Quahog (pronounced ko-hog) for taxation? This deep-water clam lives in waters of between 65 and 250 feet deep. Most Quahogs live in waters more than 3 miles offshore where fishing is regulated by the federal government, but here in Maine a subset of the species is found in shallower waters that are regulated by the State. Seafood wholesalers must file the Mahogany Quahog-specific Maine Revenue Service form QUA and pay the Mahogany Quahog tax. The tax is paid by the bushel according to the legislature, but the Maine Revenue Service used its regulatory power to declare that a bushel of Quahogs must weigh 80 pounds. Not only do they get taxed but even their weight per bushel (specific gravity) is regulated by the state. Many other species of clams are found and harvested in Maine waters, but only the Mahogany Quahog has its own special tax.
The state does have some expenses in ensuring public safety with respect to shellfish. Monitoring for the Red Tide (toxic algal bloom) protects the public from poisoning, and monitoring populations and closing harvesting areas is supposed to prevent overfishing. It may be reasonable to think that the entire tax amount is used to manage the safety and sustainability of this resource but that is not quite so according to Title 36 chapter 714 section 4718 (yes, section four thousand seven hundred and eighteen in chapter seven hundred and fourteen) of the Maine revenue code. First, the state must use collected money to pay for the administration of form QUA (this unspecified amount is determined by the supervisor of the people that process forms QUA). Then, the first $56,000 collected must be sent to the Quahog monitoring fund at the Department of Marine Resources. Then an additional 58% of the Quahog tax goes to the Quahog monitoring fund. The other 42% goes to the general fund. The legislature and the regulators could not restrain themselves to take only what is needed to monitor the fishery and just had to grab the additional 42% for the general fund. In 2007, over 10 million pounds of Quahog were harvested, with tax receipts in excess of $150,000. That year Quahog harvesters contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the general fund, in addition to the regular taxes they pay on income, property, fuel, and purchases.
This is why we need to become a fully-qualified political party in Maine. Once Libertarians are elected to the State House and the Senate they will work hard to treat all clams equally, even if they are soft shells or cherrystones. Once elected, Libertarians will oppose the creation of form CHWDR (intended to capture more of the clam revenue for the general fund). If this seems like a joke, does charging a taxpayer who risks his life at sea to harvest Quahogs in 250 feet of water an extra 42% for the general fund seem fair? Liberty begins with justice.