Shellfishermen say new Conn. leases could ruin them

Sep 10, 2014

Ed Stillwagon of Atlantic Clam Farms (at microphone), others from the Connecticut shellfish industry, and state lawmakers in Milford on Wednesday
Credit Craig LeMoult

Connecticut shellfishermen are protesting changes to the leases they’re required sign with the state.  They say new leases could cause them to lose their livelihoods.

Commercial shellfish companies have to lease beds on the bottom of Long Island Sound from the state in order to grow and harvest their catch. The new version of that lease contract says if a company doesn’t pay its lease fee within 10 days, they lose their right to fish the bed. Jimmy Salce of Nutmeg Shellfish says it didn’t used to be that way.

“If you couldn’t afford to pay the lease, which happens a lot with fisheries, especially in the winter time when you can’t even get out – I was iced in for 6 weeks this past winter - they understood that, years ago, the old timers, and you had 60 days to pay a lease,” Salce said.

The shellfishermen usually lease multiple beds, and they say the new contract means they could lose all of their leases if they fail to follow any one of a number of basic regulations. If they do lose a lease, they have 30 days to remove their equipment or they lose that, too.

Ed Stillwagon of Atlantic Clam Farms, which operates off Greenwich and East Haven, says he was getting ready to retire and sell his business.

“And the big consequence for me is I had this buyer, he saw the new lease language and backed out,” said Stillwagon.

A bill making similar changes came before the state legislature in the last session, but died in committee.

David Carey, the director of the state’s bureau of aquaculture, says accusations from the shellfishermen that the state is trying to take leases away from them are not true.

“What we want to make sure is that other shell fishermen aren’t competing against those that don’t pay their leases, and that the resource, that is the public resource out there isn’t lost,” Carey said.

Carey says the previous lease hadn’t changed much since 1915 and was in need of modernizing.

The shellfishermen are appealing to Governor Dannel Malloy to step in and return the industry to those old leases.