Stonington serves as backdrop of documentary on fishing regulations

Stonington serves as backdrop of documentary on fishing regulations

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STONINGTON — A conservative news producer’s documentary about the decline of the Northeast fishing industry due to government over-regulation was released Wednesday and received both positive and negative local reviews. 

The documentary, made by Michelle Malkin, a Fox News contributor, was set in Stonington and focused on Mike Gambardella, a fish wholesaler and processor at the Town Dock, and the Williams family, a multi-generational fishing family whose members own the vessels Heritage and Tradition. 

Malkin asserted that increased government regulations meant to prevent overfishing had already put a significant number of fishermen out of business and were threatening to destroy the long cultural and economic history of fishing in the Northeast region. 

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was made law in 1976, and increased U.S. control of coastal waters from 12 miles to 200 miles and was meant to help exclude foreign fishing fleets, Malkin said. But from there, regulations increased to the point that fishermen had to declare what areas they will fish in 48 hours in advance and submit daily, highly-detailed catch reports.

Malkin said when the government ran out of money to run the program, fishermen were required to pay for electronic monitoring equipment aboard their vessels. For 16 percent of their fishing trips, fishermen were also required to pay for government at-sea monitors, who observed all activity aboard a vessel, at a cost of $710 per day for the length of the trip, which could be several days or a week. 

Regulations also significantly limited catch sizes, which reduced profits for both fishermen and fish processors. 

Before 1980, less than 50 percent of seafood was imported in the U.S., but that number rose to between 85 and 95 percent in 2016, Malkin said. 

First Selectman Rob Simmons, who is interviewed in the documentary, said Friday that Stonington’s fishing fleet has been decimated by government regulations. 

“Regulations are killing this industry, it’s killing a part of our history and our culture and killing off a source of fresh seafood — not junk fish, pond fish from China, or sewer shrimp from Siam,” he said. 

As far as Malkin as a journalist, Simmons said he knew she generated controversy from other subjects she’d covered, but he added that she was accurate on the state of fleet fishing in the Northeast. 

As far as I’m concerned, that program that she put together on fishing here, focusing on a small town, Stonington, it is absolutely correct, I can’t find fault with it anywhere and I’m glad that helped her do it,” he said. 

On the Stonington Community Forum, Raoul Miller, of Stonington, wrote that while the issues were valid, Malkin had no credibility, nullifying the documentary’s believability. 

“Saw it was by Michelle Malkin and knew it would be 100% fantasy and rhetoric. Do you have any sources by people who are not professional right-wing hacks with anti government and anti environment biases?” he wrote. “I'm sure there are some valid concerns and issues, but posting junk from a professional malcontent with a long history of making stuff up probably isn't really useful.”

The idea of establishing fishing quotas to protect the species and the environment may have been positive, but its implementation was deeply flawed and needs to be re-examined, said Danielle Chesebrough, a member of the town’s Board of Finance and the Economic Development Commission. She said the commission has been researching the issue for several years and will continue to push for solutions. 

“This has really been an issue close to the heart, as I think it is not just an issue of one wholesaler slowly going out of business, or a town at risk of losing a historical industry, but it is also an issue of (I believe) good intentions from national policymakers/NGOs, implemented poorly and with no effective mechanisms within our legislative structure to correct it,” she wrote. “It also provides a clear illustration on how we need to prevent conflicts of interest in our government systems, and have representation by those impacted by decisions involved in creating the solutions.” 

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