Stonington about to lose link to the sea that has endured for 134 years

Stonington - The steady demise of the commercial fishing industry has claimed another victim - one of the town's oldest businesses.

Family-owned Wilcox Marine Supply, which began in 1879, will close early next year mainly because of increasingly strict commercial fishing regulations that have led to a dramatic decline in customers, according to owner Jeff Wilcox.

"You try to figure out different ways to do things so you can stay in business. I've reinvented myself several times, but I don't have any ideas left," said the 64-year-old Wilcox, whose family has run the business for four generations. "It's been in my family so long you feel like you're letting your ancestors down, but you just have to get over it."

In 2002, Wilcox moved the business from his larger quarters on Old Stonington Road back to the original Wilcox Road location as business dropped off with the decline in the commercial fishing industry. The business provides a wide array of equipment and services for owners of both commercial and recreational boats.

Wilcox said that 50 years ago, there were 50 boats in the Stonington fishing fleet, but now there are just five fishing and scallop boats. Lobstering in Long Island Sound is currently shut down.

Wilcox pointed to federal regulations that drastically limit the number of days that boats can operate and how much fish they can land in order to restore fishing stocks. He said there are no other businesses that serve commercial fishermen left in the state.

Wilcox said that the decline has gotten to the point where he paid himself just $9,000 in salary last year.

"If the customers were still here, I probably would have done this until I died," he said.

While he does have recreational boating customers, he said that season is only four months long, and private boaters are using their boats less because of high fuel costs. He said he relied on his commercial fishing customers to get him through the other eight months of the year.

"It isn't just here," he said about the effect of regulations on fishing-related businesses such as his. "It's in New Bedford, Gloucester and Point Judith. It really makes no sense. These regulations have nothing to do with conservation."

Wilcox, who began working at the business in July 1972, just days after getting out of the Navy, said he won't close until January or February because he still has to sell his remaining inventory.

The property, with sweeping views of Fishers Island Sound, has been for sale for several years.

There are two lots, one that contains his father's house and a garage, while an adjacent 3.5 acres contains the 3,000-square-foot marine supply building, a home and a garage. The property also includes 11 acres of barrier beach property across the Amtrak rail lines.

As for what he'll do next, the longtime volunteer firefighter with the Quiambaug department said it won't be sitting around relaxing.

"I may do that for a while, but I know it won't last," he said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments

Stories that may interest you

LHS choirs perform in Nashville

The Ledyard High School Chamber Choir and Select Singers have earned an invitation to the 2020 Festival of Gold at Carnegie Hall in New York City after their performances at the Nashville Heritage Festival at the beginning of April.


High flyer in Groton

Theo Hespeler, 5, of Salem jumps as he tries to get his kite in the air on Thursday at Poquonnock Plains Park.


Judge Devlin nominated to serve on state appeals court

While assigned to the New London Judicial District, Judge Robert J. Devlin Jr. presided over years of court proceedings in a sensational murder-for-hire case involving local attorneys Haiman Clein and Beth Carpenter.


Preston finance board supports plan to add paid firefighters, mostly

Proposed Preston budget includes nearly doubling fire department budget to hire paid firefighters to fill gaps in responses by volunteers.

TRENDING

PODCASTS