STONINGTON — The town Stonington Shellfish Commission has given a local fisherman the go-ahead to apply for a permit to harvest clams by boat in exchange for 20 percent of his catch, which would be returned to recreational clam beds.
Chairman Don Murphy said that the local permit, once it is approved, would be the first of its kind issued in more than 10 years.
The fisherman, Edwin Emery, owns a 37-foot Novi fishing boat with a dredge. On Thursday, he told the commissioners that his plan was to dredge clams from beds that have not been harvested in 30 years, and bring them to market.
Emery also said he was interested in exclusive rights to dredge, but commissioners told him that would require an aquaculture application. The alternative was to apply for permit — a simple process costing $100 that would allow him immediate access to wild harvest areas, the commissioners said.
Emery said after the meeting that he was interested in the permit because it was his “only option to continue fishing,” because of rising costs.
“In order to drag for fish, you need a state permit that’s $50,000-$55,000,” Emery said. “That allows you to land in Stonington. If you go out 3 miles that’s a federal permit, it’s $250,000. A permit for sea scallop fishing is millions.”
“Aquaculture and clamming are the only ways to avoid spending increasing amounts of money to continue fishing,” Emery said. He said he would be bringing in “roughly 50 bushels” of clams a day, which is an average catch.
“We move clams from polluted beds to clean areas, and they clean themselves,” Emery said. “You’re farming more than anything.”
“I like to maintain a Stonington product,” Emery said. “I firmly believe we can sustain what Stonington needs here locally.”
Murphy said that Emery’s goal is to make money, "but our goal is to take advantage of his equipment and put clams into recreational beds. That’s why we were interested in his proposal. It’s a pathway to augment our recreational beds…. He will be harvesting large numbers of clams out of Stonington waters.”
Murphy said a previous company that dredged clams by boat went out of business over 10 years ago. Since then only hand rakes have been used, but nobody until now has asked for a permit to dredge for harvesting, he said.
Murphy said he wasn’t certain where the wild harvest areas are located, but noted that Emery could possibly be dredging in areas near Lords Point or Ram Island.
Licensing for aquaculture beds is much more elaborate than applying for a wild harvest permit, Murphy said, because it is a multiyear process that involves the state. Aquaculture is essentially the broadcasting of seeds or “spat” from hatcheries and caging them until they are big enough to bring to market. Stonington has issued about five aquaculture licenses for growing indigenous oysters in local waters, he said.