Wednesday, September 14, 2011

No Help for Long Island Sound's Oystermen

The Thimble Island Oyster Company reported via Twitter the other day (@organicoysters) that 80 percent of his oysters were killed by Hurricane Irene, buried under sand and silt presumably. Today there's a news story about how Connecticut's elected officials are highly pessimistic that there will be any aid at all for Long Island Sound oyster growers.

Referring to U.S. Representative Joe Courtney, the Connecticut Mirror reported:

Long before Irene hit, Courtney had begun pushing legislation that would expand USDA's definition of specialty crops to include shellfish growers, which would allow them to tap into key federal agriculture-assistance programs. Tropical Storm Irene, he said, has only served to highlight the need for his bill.

But he's worried nothing can be done in Congress quickly enough to help the state's shellfish industry, which generates an estimated $30 million in sales and provides more than 300 jobs statewide.

Take James Markow, whose shellfish operation in Noank has been suspended for more than two weeks. State officials closed Long Island Sound to shellfish harvesting before Irene hit, fearing that excessive rainfall and flooding would overwhelm sewage treatment plants and contaminate the oyster crops.

"We're shut down. We can't sell anything," said Markow, president of the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative. "Meanwhile, we have employees and insurance payments and rent and leases and all the other stuff that has to get paid... It's really a struggle for us to have zero income for this amount of time."

State officials are working to test the waters and reopen areas they conclude are safe. But the process was setback by Tropical Storm Lee, which dumped more rain on the state.

David Carey, of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Aquaculture, said the bureau is sampling water now, and noted that parts of shellfish areas in Milford and other areas were re-opened Tuesday.

"We're hoping we're going to be able to open the vast majority either by this weekend or by next week," he said.

According to Carey, there are 45 oyster companies operating 110 boats in Connecticut's portion of the Sound.


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