On July 4th, the weather was perfect, the sun was shining and everybody was looking for something to do outside. And yet there was one thing people couldn’t do, go clamming, thanks to the state’s delayed reaction to test the local waters.
If it rains, the state mandates that shellfish commissions send them water samples and sometimes even a dozen clams to make sure the water is clean. The process generally takes a week or so, but it rained heavy on June 25, and the clam beds didn’t reopen again until July 7th.
“July 4th was tough,” Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission Chairman J. Patrick Kelly said. “Thirteen days later is not acceptable to us.”
Thursday night in East Lyme Town Hall, state representatives Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, and Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, along with State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, listened to complaints from the Waterford Shellfish Commission, the Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission and the East Lyme Harbor Management Commission about the state’s inability to get recreational shellfishing areas reopened in a reasonable amount of time. Doug Lawson, , said Jordan Cove has been closed to shellfishers more often than it has been open this year.
“We open on April 1, and from April 1st up until July 7th, we were closed 50 days,” Lawson said. “Out of 91.”
Lawson said that was partly because of rain. But it is also because the state is no longer being responsive to the recreational shellfishing areas, and is taking up to two weeks to reopen shellfishing areas after storms.
“I understand the state has to worry about commercial areas first,” Kelly said. “But I don’t think they should neglect us.”
Originally, if there was two inches of rain, the state would close down all the shellfishing areas and test the water to ensure runoff didn’t pollute the water, Kelly said. The process would take a week, and even if the state didn’t test the water, all the shellfishing areas would reopen automatically the eighth day, he said.
That has changed. Now the Connecticut Department of Agriculture is charged with testing the water, and the shellfishing beds are now closed after one-inch of rain instead of two. If there is two-inches of rain, the state requires 12 clams from the beds as well to test, Kelly said.
The problem is that the Department of Agriculture does not do the testing in a timely manner, Kelly said. It almost always takes more than seven days, which angers people who want to shellfish and reduces the amount of money the shellfish commissions can make, he said.
The perfect example was when there was heavy rains on June 25th, and the recreational shellfishing areas did not reopen until July 7, he said. The reason was because only certified person was in the state lab to do the testing, as everybody else was taking vacation, Kelly said.
“They need to take their vacations in the off-season, when there isn’t the demand,” Eric Kanter of the Waterford-East Lyme Shellfish Commission said. “We need the revenue, we can only make revenue during the summer time. If we don’t have revenue in the summer time, we aren’t going to be able to keep the (Niantic River) open.”
The shellfish commissions try to be self-sufficient, with all their money coming from selling permits for shellfishing. If the shellfishing areas are always closed, it makes it a tough sell, Lawson said.
“I’d like to be self-sufficient,” he said. “I don’t want to keep going back to the town asking for the money, that isn’t fun thing to do.”
Stillman and Ritter said they would bring this up to the Department of Agriculture to see if they could get them to be more responsive. The group also threw out other ideas, such as having the DEEP handle the testing or using the labs at UConn-Avery Point.
Ritter said if the shellfish commissions could find others having the same problem, it would increase the chance of something getting done. She said shellfishing is a draw for tourists, and she could use that argument on the state level.
“This is an economic benefit to the area,” Ritter said. “Some of the reason people come here is they can come and (shellfish).”
Meanwhile, the shellfish commissioners asked members of the Department of Agriculture to show up, and none did. The commissioners said state legislators would be there as well, and still they didn’t show up, which bothered Stillman.
“That disturbs me,” Stillman said.