Industry expert says consumers have a role in saving local seafood

Industry expert says consumers have a role in saving local seafood

The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — Finding fresh, locally caught fish isn’t easy, but if educated consumers are persistent, they will not only help local fishermen, they’ll also help rebuild weakened domestic seafood markets that have been deeply gouged by imports and regulations.

Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for Seafreeze Ltd., a producer and trader of frozen seafood in North Kingstown, explained these points and more in her presentation, “Sea to Table: Bringing the Bounty of the Sea to You,” before an audience of about 40 people at the La Grua Center Thursday night.

In attendance were state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, First Selectman Rob Simmons and a number of longtime local fishermen. The Stonington Economic Development Commission sponsored Lapp’s presentation.

She was joined by a panel comprised of Tom Williams, a generational fisherman with two sons who are commercial fishermen; Rich Fuka, president of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance; and Mike Gambardella, owner of Gambardella Wholesale Fish at the Stonington Town Dock.

Lapp said the fishing industry was so over-regulated, “You practically have to be a lawyer to go fishing.”

Her main points were:

The government has placed 340 spatial regulations between Maine and North Carolina, making it difficult to ascertain where it is legal to fish for specific species.

More than 90 percent of all seafood sold to consumers is imported.

Quota cuts are the result of governmental surveys based on incorrect science that does not reflect actual fish stocks.

Domestic seafood markets have collapsed because of the quota cuts and have not been replaced by imports.

More than 1 million acres of offshore wind leases will negatively affect fish habitat and will hurt the fishing industry.

Lapp explained that consumers can request and purchase locally caught, seasonal fish like black sea bass, bluefish, fluke, monkfish, scup, swordfish, and tuna, among others, as a step toward rebuilding domestic markets.

“It’s like the organic food market — years ago it didn’t exist in your grocery store, but now it does because people kept asking for it,” she said.

She also urged the audience to support H.R. 200, Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, which would make revisions to fishing quotas.

“We should stop asking why local seafood is so expensive and start asking why imported seafood is so cheap,” she said.

Gary Yerman, owner of New London Seafood Distributors Inc., who was in the audience, said the industry needed advocacy at the highest level of government to change the regulations and restore the markets.

“We’ve been beaten up by and mismanaged by our own government and if we’re going to take anything away from this meeting, it’s to get voices of the people into our government in Washington and in the State of Connecticut,” he said.

Simmons, who gave the introduction, said the quotas had to be lifted, and soon, or the consequences would be dire.

“A million visitors come to our area every year to enjoy fresh-caught seafood in our restaurants — they do not come here to eat frozen tilapia from China and they do not come here to eat cesspool shrimp from Thailand — we eat Stonington Reds and that’s what these visitors want when they come here, good fresh seafood,” he said. “That’s what we want, but we won’t get it and we won’t keep it if we don’t keep our processors and our fisherman.”


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