Connecticut state Sen. Heather Somers introduced a bill Friday that would ease state and federal regulations that impede local commercial fishermen from landing catches in multiple states on the same trip, a practice that is currently illegal.

With support from area commercial fishermen, Somers testified before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Environment Committee Friday on behalf of her legislation, Senate Bill 226, that would simplify the landings process of fishermen who hold dual licenses.

The bill would offer “some relief to our last commercial fishing fleet” in Stonington, Somers said in a release.

By law, fishermen are currently required to designate their catch for a specific state and offload the catch in that state, even if the fishermen are licensed in multiple states and regardless of whether the catch is made in federal or state waters. Fishermen must make multiple trips per week far offshore to make each catch designated for each state.

Somers’ proposal would bring Connecticut into agreements with bordering states to allow Connecticut’s commercial fishermen to carry fish earmarked for one state into another state’s port without penalty. A fisherman with multiple licenses could catch fish in one trip for all the states he is licensed in and land those catches at each port.

Fishing vessels would separate the fish for each state in segregated areas on the boat, which would be clearly recognizable and labeled.

“Once the total catch was completed, the boat would then come into port, unload its quota in that state, and then travel to the next state to unload its quota until finished,” Somers said in the release.

The bill would also require the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to enter into an agreement with other states to allow for dual landings.

The bill would have benefits for the fishermen’s working conditions and the environment and would not affect fishing quotas, Somers said.

“This would not only increase safety of our fishermen, it would result in less fuel usage, less crew time, and it is better for the environment because the bycatch would be reduced,” she said. “There would be no more fish caught than is currently allowed. This bill would simply allow it to be caught in a more efficient manner.”

In his testimony before the committee Friday, Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons said the state's last commercial fishing fleet “of any size” is located in Stonington, but the bill would apply to and benefit any and all fish processors located up and down the Connecticut coastline.

Simmons said that not only are Connecticut fishing vessels required to land their fish in the state of their license according to their state’s quota, but fishermen from New York and Rhode Island must also return to their state of origin to offload their catch even if Connecticut is a more convenient location.

The consequences of structuring the law in this manner are that Connecticut dock workers and fish processors do not get the business they might otherwise have received if out-of-state fishermen were off-loading fish in Connecticut. “This is an adverse and inefficient impact,” he said.

Simmons also said that out-of-state fishermen may waste fuel resources traveling back to their state of origin to offload their catch, which they also may have taken in Connecticut waters. Also, the fresh quality of the fish may be enhanced by offloading in Connecticut rather than returning to the vessel’s state of origin, he said.

“It simply does not make sense for out-of-state fishermen to be denied the opportunity of offloading at the nearest convenient port of call just because the port is in Connecticut rather than in New York or Rhode Island,” Simmons said. “This bill gives them that choice, if they choose to make it. It is simple common sense.”

Somers also said that commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  

“We recently lost two fishermen off the coast of Block Island during a weather event where their boat took on water and sank,” she said in the release.

"In addition to the dangerous conditions, our last commercial fishing fleet, which is in southeastern Connecticut (New London and Stonington), has been faced with increased and costly regulations as well as navigational hazards which will significantly impact their future existence," she said.

"This proposal offers some relief to our last commercial fishing fleet," she continued. This is a priority for me. This issue is near and dear to my heart.”

chewitt@thewesterlysun.com

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