Residents learn about fishing, local offerings at Stonington open house

Stonington — Residents on Saturday sampled fried scallops and fish tacos, families strolled along the Town Dock and stepped onto fishing boats for tours and children asked fishermen for tips on catching fish. 

They all were visiting the open house hosted by the town's fishermen at Gambardella’s Wholesale Seafood at the Town Dock on Saturday afternoon to get an inside look at the fishing industry and learn more about the seafood caught by local fishermen.

Ed Emery, a third-generation fisherman, encouraged people to shop locally at the Town Dock for fresh fish, including summertime favorites like cod, haddock, flounder, squid and whiting; fluke in the winter; or the scallops sold year round, as well as lobsters, which are available all seasons except for the fall in Connecticut.

"There's so much valuable fish right out front here, and I think that people are just missing it," said Emery, who added that people can call ahead to find out what fishing boats are coming in.

Emery, who would like to see his business carry on to a fourth and fifth generation, was one of many fishermen at the event who expressed concerns over the shrinking commercial fleet and pressures on the industry from over-regulation. He said the industry needs regulation but many of the rules today don't make sense economically or environmentally. He is asking for fishermen to be allowed to collaborate with scientists, including to provide data on fish stocks.

"We have an abundance of fish," he said. "We've taken the time, we've made the sacrifices to bring the stocks back. We don't want to deplete them but I think we can work together."

Joe Bomster, vice president of Stonington Seafood Harvesters, who was frying up the Bomsters' famous sea scallops for people to eat at the event, said that when he started fishing with his father in 1977, fishermen could take their boat out fishing 365 days a year. Now, scallop fishermen are restricted to 60 days a year per boat.

"So basically, having two boats, we can only do a fraction of what we used to do with one boat," he said, adding that it doesn't make much economic sense for anyone to make a living working 60 days a year.

Bomster said that while regulations are good for any business, when the government starts to over-regulate, people go out of business.

"When you start to have a fleet that's got very few boats left, it's time to open the fisheries up and let the guys try to survive," he said.

"The ocean is full of fish but the regulations are choking us," said Bob Guzzo, vice president of the Southern New England Fishermen and Lobstermen's Association. "Ninety percent of our seafood is imported and you've got the freshest seafood here in your backyard."

Mike Gambardella, owner of Gambardella's Wholesale Seafood, who came up with the idea for the event, said the fishermen want to show people how wild-caught, chemical-free, good seafood tastes. People at the event sampled seafood and took home recipes for a pan-roasted scup dish and whiting fish tacos.

He also said they want to show how hard of a job it is to be a fisherman under so much regulation. He said scientists should listen to the fishermen who go out every day to the ocean and see what is out there.

"They've got to change these regulations and they’ve got to go up to today’s times," he added. "The fish are back."

Danielle Chesebrough, a member of the town's Economic Development Commission, said the commission has been working with fishermen for two years and the event is part of a broader series to ensure the community supports fresh, sustainable fish right here in the community and to help the local commercial fishing fleet stay in business. She explained that while there are a lot of good intentions on both sides in crafting public policy around fishing regulations, the local fishermen see so many holes in the policy that can be fixed.

Stonington resident Sarah Tumicki stopped by the event on Saturday, along with her sister Becky, who was in town visiting, to learn more about the resource in her backyard. As a cool breeze washed over the dock, the sisters looked on as Alan Chaplaski, owner and master of the fishing vessel Neptune, demonstrated how to mend a fishing net.

Chaplaski said that the netting holes fishermen have to mend at sea typically are much larger but the trick is to just start.

"Once begun, half done," he said.

Becky Tumicki said the event was enjoyable and approachable for people to come down to the boats to learn about the fishing industry. She said the fishermen were "very friendly, open, approachable and knowledgeable."  

Politicians, including Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, also came to the event.

Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons said it was an awesome event to have, particularly on the same weekend of the Blessing of the Fleet, which is scheduled for Sunday and honors those lost at sea. Saturday's event is about the people that bring fresh seafood to 150 food establishments in Stonington and many more up and down the coast, he said.

"This is part of the history and culture of our community, and we celebrate it," he said. "Stonington without the fishermen would be like Christmas without Santa."

k.drelich@theday.com

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