Sen. Formica: CT shellfishing is “an industry we need to grow and flourish”

August 25, 2016

Local shellfishermen want support from the state

The Day of New London
Aug. 25, 2016

Groton — Members of local shellfish commissions and shellfishermen alike say the state is missing the opportunity to support and nurture a burgeoning shellfish industry and are asking local legislators for help.

State Reps. John Scott, R-Groton, and Aundré Bumgardner, R-Groton, and state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, hosted a forum at the Groton Elks Club on Wednesday night where the target of most of the complaints was the state Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture.
The bureau is tasked with testing water samples from the recreational and commercial shellfish beds across the state and in recent years has placed more and more of the burden of testing on local volunteer shellfish commissions, said Roger Sherman, a member of the Groton Shellfish Commission.

Commission members from Groton and neighboring towns continually are collecting and driving water samples to Milford, the only state-approved laboratory in the state, Sherman said.

The samples, until 2014, were collected by a bureau employee who lived in the area.

The state no longer even has a running boat in the area to take test samples in state waters where at least one shellfishing bed remains closed as a result, Sherman said.

“We have volunteers doing the state’s work. Without the commissions and volunteers, there would be no industry,” said Jim Markow, a member of the Noank-based Aeros Cultured Oyster Co. and founding member and president of the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative.

“We need to have a partner in this and not an adversary,” Markow said.

There are also regulatory hurdles, said Patrick Kelly, co-chairman of the Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission.

Shellfish grounds typically are tested after rains because runoff can and often does lead to higher levels of bacteria in the water.

When the beds are closed, despite follow-up samples that show clean water, federal regulations mandate that a follow-up sample cannot be taken until five days have passed, Kelly said. So, even with clean water samples, shellfish beds have to stay closed for at least a week.
The entire regulatory process is working against them, he said.

Scott, Bumgardner and State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, last year co-sponsored a series of bills aimed at removing logistical and regulatory impediments.

One bill would have established a federal Food and Drug Administration-approved testing laboratory at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus and another created the Aquaculture Advisory Council.

The 13-member council was to be appointed by the governor and Democratic and Republican leaders in the legislature with a goal of expanding the shellfish industry and providing oversight of the Bureau of Aquaculture.

The UConn bill died because of lack of support and the advisory committee, which was supposed to meet in January, does not yet have a full number of appointees.

Scott said the industry has the potential to create jobs, put Connecticut on the map with its oysters and encourage business growth.
“This could be something that could be huge for use — they just can’t do it because of the regulatory roadblocks thrown in front of them,” Scott said of the shellfishermen.

Scott said there are now talks about establishing a testing lab at the Marine Science Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut, an idea he said makes sense.

Formica said he and other local legislators would continue to listen to concerns and bring them to the attention of the state.
“This is an industry we need to grow and flourish in the state of Connecticut,” Formica said.