Commercial fishermen plan flotilla for Trump’s speech at Coast Guard Academy

Commercial fishermen plan flotilla for Trump’s speech at Coast Guard Academy


The Stonington fishing boat, "Neptune" leads the boat procession from the docks during the 62nd annual Blessing of the Fleet in Stonington Harbor to honor and remember those from the local commercial fishing fleet who died at sea as well as to bless the vessels and their crews. Christine Corrigan / The Westerly Sun

NEW LONDON — A group of fishermen will greet President Trump and send congratulations to graduating cadets from a flotilla on the Thames River during the United States Coast Guard Academy commencement today.

“Our message is ‘make commercial fishing great again’ and it’s a congratulatory effort to say thank you to the Coast Guard class of 2017,” said Joel Hovanesian, of Wakefield, who is a member of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance. “First and foremost, this is not in any way, shape or form a protest and I don’t want this to be reported out of context.”

An array of different sized vessels, perhaps 15 to 20 from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, is expected to form the flotilla, he said.

The purpose of the flotilla is also to raise the President’s awareness of regulatory issues in the fishing industry, especially since one of the platforms he ran on was over-regulation and its burdensome effects on small businesses, said Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for Seafreeze Ltd., of North Kingstown.

“Every single fishing vessel is a small, mobile corporation, so if he’s seeing 15 or 20 boats, he’s seeing 15 or 20 small businesses right there and there’s thousands of them along the East Coast,” she said. “In the fishing industry, we’re dealing with a lot of over regulation and we believe there’s a lot of things that could be done to make the industry thrive again.”

A thriving fishing community is vital to the economy of the area, said Ward Smith, member of the Stonington Economic Development Commission.

“The fishermen are important not only for the economy, but they’re iconic and a tourist attraction and we want to make sure we keep them viable,” Smith said. “They’ve been undergoing some economic stress lately, their fishing quotas have been lowered a couple of times and other restrictions have been put on them.”

Lapp said President Trump’s visit is a chance for the fishing industry to gain visibility and ask for help.

“This is an opportunity to say we’re here, we need your help, we support you, we support these Coast Guard cadets,” Lapp said. “Commercial fishing is not on people’s radar — we want the President to know that we exist and that we need help.”

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