Courtney tells congressional subcommittee that plan would bankrupt lobstermen

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District told a congressional subcommittee Tuesday that a proposal to transfer control of 155 square miles of federally controlled ocean to Rhode Island and New York jurisdiction would bankrupt Connecticut lobstermen, including those from Stonington and other southeastern Connecticut towns.

“This is damaging people’s livelihood and I think we have to be a lot more careful in terms of how we as a Congress treat federal jurisdiction and people's rights ... .” he told the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans of the Committee on Natural Resources.

If the plan passes, Courtney said Connecticut lobstermen would be shut out of fishing in Rhode Island waters because they are not residents while in New York they would have to try and obtain a non-resident permit through a costly auction process.

Courtney told the subcommittee that there was no consultation with the Stonington-based Southern New England Fishermen and Lobstermen’s Association about the plan and there was no biological analysis to back up the change.

Courtney explained to the subcommittee the economic importance of Long Island Sound and the balancing act needed to protect its fragile ecosystem.

He said he has worked closely in the past with New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, who introduced the bill before the subcommittee, which is aimed at striped bass management, on issues such as the restoration of Long Island Sound and the preservation of Plum Island.

But in this case, he said Connecticut was not represented in the development of the plan, despite the impact on its fishermen.

Courtney and other members of the state’s congressional delegation have sent a letter to the subcommittee opposing the plan that would move the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in Long Island Sound to a new landward boundary between Montauk, N.Y., and Point Judith, R.I. They also criticized that Connecticut was not consulted on the development and impact of the plan.

“It seems unreasonable to us that a decision of this magnitude, which will have a significant impact on Connecticut fishermen, would be made without any input from stakeholders in our state,” wrote the senators and representatives to the chairman and ranking member of the committee.

“This change would prevent Connecticut fishermen and lobstermen from harvesting in waters around Block Island Sound as they have done for decades, unless first obtaining costly permits from New York or Rhode Island. We believe that this misguided legislation was crafted strategically to benefit certain states while disproportionately harming the Connecticut fishing industry. At the very least, any consideration of this bill going forward should include voices from all areas that would be impacted by this change — including from our state.”

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee has also written to the subcommittee saying the bill would damage efforts to rebuild striped bass stock.

“The waters around Block Island seem to be holding an unusually large proportion of the adult striped bass population in recent years. Converting these federal waters to state jurisdiction will expose these reproductive age fish to significant mortality which our public hearings on striped bass management tell us would be opposed by the vast majority of anglers,” he wrote.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Twitter: @joewojtas

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