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DEEP to issue licenses to commercial whelk fishermen

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is taking over the licensing and regulation of the commercial whelk fishery.

In an announcement Tuesday, DEEP said whelk fishermen could apply starting Dec. 1 for new licenses that would take effect Jan. 1.

After that date, all previously issued licenses will be void, regardless of the expiration date.

The new licenses will replace those issued by the state Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture, which had been regulating the fishery.

David Simpson, director of marine fisheries for DEEP, said that both agencies supported the state law changing the regulation of the fishery for whelk, also called conch, because it fit better with the types of commercial fisheries DEEP already oversees.

The Bureau of Aquaculture oversees licenses for shellfishing and other activities that involve leased underwater lands, he said.

“Whelk is a wild harvest that doesn’t fit into the aquaculture model of leased grounds,” he said.

Currently there are about 90 commercial whelk fishermen in the state, but the number has been as high as 150 in recent years, he said.

Many former lobstermen turned to whelk fishing after the collapse of the lobster population in Long Island Sound in the 1990s, he said. Both fisheries use similar gear.

The fee for a commercial whelk license will remain at its current price of $100 per year. Anyone who harvests more than a half-bushel of whelk daily is required to have a license.

Robert Guzzo of Stonington said he fishes for whelk from June through December in Long Island Sound, and trawls for fluke and other species the rest of the year. He’s not happy about the changes.

“It’ll just mean more headaches,” he said. “I’d rather they just leave us alone.”

He said the current demand for whelk is strong. DEEP’s takeover of the licensing and regulation, he fears, will bring new restrictions on the fishery that won’t be beneficial.

Simpson said DEEP is not now setting any minimum sizes or maximum amounts of whelk that can be legally caught and sold.

It may, however, begin working with New York state to establish common limits for the fishery throughout Long Island Sound to prevent whelk from being overfished.

With prices for whelk at about $2 per pound, he said, it has become an attractive alternative for fishermen who have been focusing on other species.

Any new regulations would go through a process of public hearings before being enacted.

Twitter: @BensonJudy

More information:

Applications for whelk licenses will be available beginning Dec. 1 by sending an email to:"> or by mail at: P.O. box 719; Old Lyme, CT 06371 or by phone at: (860) 434-6043. The application will also be available at: under "Permits & Licenses."


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