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The 'unfriendly' decisions of DEEP

I used to be a fan of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the DEEP as they are now known. As an avid lifetime shore angler, I saw them protecting my favorite fish species and access to my favorite fishing spots. Back when they were simply the Department of Environmental Protection, the DEP, I was part of their Volunteer Angler Survey Program, which used fishermen’s reports to assess annual local fish populations. This was when we were friends.

So, I read with interest and disappointment David Collin’s recent column, “DEEP to allow homeowner to put beach-obstructing fence on state-built groin,” (Nov. 23). This seems but the latest in a series of capitulations to influence, money and possibly politics. Like Mr. Collins, I am also not a lawyer or surveyor, but I know the public has access to shoreline below the mean high tide mark. Blocking it off goes against both the letter and spirit of the law, see: https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Coastal-Resources/Public-Trust-Fact-Sheet.

According to this state document, “In general, if an area is regularly wet by the tides, you are probably safe to assume that it is in the public trust … Public rights include fishing, boating, hunting, bathing, taking shellfish, gathering seaweed, cutting sedge, and of passing and repassing . . ." Clearly, they know what is right and should protect the public.

Another recent disappointment was the decision by the DEEP to allow the filling of the Thames River between the Central Vermont and State Piers to allow for the assembly of wind turbines for offshore use, a water-convenient but not water-dependent use of the shoreline. I see that as a problem.

Fifty-something years ago I was a kid living not far from the piers. My father would provide a happy Spring ritual, taking me fishing for winter flounder from the Central Vermont dock. He was a longshoreman, ILA Local 1411, the union decimated by recent operator changes at the pier. I only mention that because I am pretty sure that is how we got access to the area, and he also would have been up in arms about the job loss, a sad casualty of the current Port Authority fiasco.

I did not appreciate it at the time, but my baited hook was intercepting hungry spawning flounder. I remember running white milt coming from the males and eggs in the females. They spawn during the winter and spring in shallow inshore waters, often returning to the same areas where they were born. According to NOAA, flounder populations have been in decline since the mid-1980s due to overfishing, pollution from runoff, and warming waters. Whether spawning in the river or using it as a feeding area for further migration, why jeopardize them? The final approval from the Army Corps of Engineers now is the last barrier to the filling of the flounder playground.

Environmental protection and public access should be on the top of DEEP’s agenda. When I see that, we can be friends again. My hand is extended, and I am waiting.

The author is a resident of Mystic.

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