Fishermen repeat regulatory woes at Mystic forum

George McCagg of Gambardella's Wholesale Fish Inc. unloads bins of fresh fish on Aug. 24, 2016. Fishermen and other members of the commercial fishing industry gathered in Mystic on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, to air grievances about fishing quotas and other regulations that they claim are hurting their industry. (Tim Martin/The Day)
George McCagg of Gambardella's Wholesale Fish Inc. unloads bins of fresh fish on Aug. 24, 2016. Fishermen and other members of the commercial fishing industry gathered in Mystic on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, to air grievances about fishing quotas and other regulations that they claim are hurting their industry. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Mystic — A panel of Stonington fishermen and fishing industry lobbyists repeated their perennial cries against the federal government’s fishing quotas at an event hosted by state Sen. Heather Somers on Wednesday night, telling an audience at the Mystic Luxury Theatre that the regulations could cause the demise of their industry.

Somers invited Stonington and Rhode Island fishing veterans to speak about the effects of a regulatory system used by the National Marine Fisheries Service that is meant to prevent overfishing but that they say is strangling their industry. She also arranged for the screening of a commercial fishing-themed episode of a show produced by the conservative digital website CRTV at the theater.

“We people up here in Connecticut got the dirty end of the stick,” said Joe Rendeiro, a retired full-time commercial fisherman. “We’re just a bunch of people trying to make a living.”

Stonington fishermen like Rendeiro have long bemoaned the government’s attempts to regulate fishing by instituting quotas for species like fluke — also called summer flounder — in regions along the East Coast from the mid-Atlantic to New England.

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, on which Connecticut has no representation, regulates fluke and other species for the East Coast, along with a larger body, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Fishing industry advocates say the quota system allows Connecticut fishermen to land far less fish than other states such as North Carolina, even though most of the fish are caught in federal and not state waters.

The two groups adjusted their limits this year to allow Connecticut fishermen to catch more summer flounder and not as much sea bass in 2018, but Stonington fishermen say the effects of the changing quotas would be nominal given an unfair system.

The quotas and the monitors employed to enforce them, cheap imported fish, the development of wind farms on the Atlantic coast and the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act were all the target of criticism from the speakers at Wednesday’s event.

The panel also included Mike Gambardella, who runs his family's fish wholesale business at the Town Dock and who has led an effort to print and sell bumper stickers with a message for President Donald Trump urging him to "Make Commercial Fishing Great Again."

Atlantic fishermen say the quotas that govern the amount of fish they’re allowed to bring in are based on inaccurate measurements of fish populations, and have long claimed that they see higher numbers of various species on their daily trips than the NOAA scientists count on their periodic trips to assess the populations on which they base their quotas.

"The stock assessments are wrong," said Tom Williams, a Stonington fisherman who spoke Wednesday and was featured in the CRTV piece hosted by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin.

Somers invited Meghan Lapp, a fishing industry advocate and a representative for North Kingstown, R.I.-based fishing company Seafreeze to speak at Wednesday's event.

“Fishermen are the farmers of the sea," she said. “They ... provide a clean, healthy sustainable source of protein.”

m.shanahan@theday.com

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