Fishermen hope bumper sticker gets Trump's attention

Stonington — For struggling Town Dock fishermen, President Trump’s promise to eliminate regulations and spur the economy means they might finally have success in their long fight to rescind the catch restrictions they say are not only unfair and based on bad science but are putting them out of business.

So in an effort to attract Trump’s attention and help spread their message in Washington, they have printed up a bumper sticker that will be appearing on vehicles here in coming days.

The sticker features a picture of Trump giving a thumbs-up next to a fishing boat with the slogan “Make Commercial Fishing Great Again,” a spin on Trump’s popular campaign slogan "Make America Great Again."

“He’s sat down and talked to coal miners and truck drivers. We’d like to be able to get the seafood industry to sit down and talk to him,” said Mike Gambardella, who runs his family's fish wholesale business at the Town Dock. “It’s a matter of him understanding the problem."

Gambardella said if fishermen just had the chance to explain the long-standing problem to Trump, “his head would spin.”

For 25 years, and with no success, fishermen here have argued that while federal officials continue to place strict catch limits on the amount of summer flounder and other species in an effort to rebuild depleted stocks, the fish have rebounded so strongly that they can’t help but catch large numbers of them even when targeting other species. In addition, they say warming seas have pushed more and more summer flounder, also known as fluke, into New England waters.

They say the limits force them to throw back large numbers of fluke that are often dead. From 2011 to this year the state’s annual quota was decreased from 392,000 to 127,000 pounds. Currently, boats can only land 500 pounds of fluke every two weeks.

Worsening the catch restrictions on fluke is a quota system, which is governed by a management agency in which Connecticut has no seat, that 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. North Carolina and Virginia boats can land 1.5 million and 1.2 million pounds respectively this year. The total commercial landing allocation for 11 Northeast and Mid Atlantic states is 5.6 million pounds.

Attempts by U.S. Sen, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., along with numerous other local, state and federal officials to change the system have failed.

In addition, the country now imports much of its fish, something Gambardella says ties in with Trump’s desire to dump unfavorable trade deals that give an advantage to foreign competitors.

“We’re just trying to get (Trump’s) attention so fisherman can go out fishing again,” Gambardella said. “We’re try to get to him. We need his help because we’re all going out of business.”

Gambardella who runs his family’s century-old fish dealer business at locations here and in East Haven, said he was going to close three years ago but held off when fisheries officials declared the stock had mostly been rebuilt and was growing. He hoped for an increase in catch limits but instead they continued to be cut.

Gambardella said he and other fishermen got the idea for the bumper sticker at a recent fishermen’s rally in Providence.

“We’re trying to get the word out that we need help. It’s that bad,” he said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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