HARTFORD, CT — Two bills that could have a big impact on Connecticut’s multi-million dollar commercial fishing business were the subject of an Environment Committee public hearing Friday.
One of the bills would require the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to allow fishermen who are licensed in more than one state to engage in dual landings of fish.
The legislation would allow commercial fishermen to take one day’s catch and bring them across state lines — to Rhode Island and New York — not just Connecticut.
Currently, fishermen in Connecticut are not allowed to cross state lines with their catch. That means they have to make multiple trips even if they carry commercial fishing licenses in neighboring states.
The other bill would “prohibit the possession and trade of shark fins in the state.” The aim is to protect sharks from skinning for trade but commercial fishermen are worried that the bill may lead to a complete ban on shark fishing.
The dual-landing fishing bill is sponsored by Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton.
“This is a very important bill for commercial fishermen,” Somers told the committee. “They have been faced with unfair quotas compared to other states.”
She said currently fishermen who have commercial fishing licenses in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island have to make three different trips. “Those trips are in dangerous waters, extra fuel has to be used. Under this bill they could just go once,” Somers said.
Committee member David Michel, D-Stamford, said he had concerns about the bill, however.
“It seems like a risky bill for conservation,” he said. “It seems like a huge risk that it would be encouraging more fishing and we have lost more than 90 percent of our fish and planetary animals already,” Michel said.
But Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, who testified in support of the bill, said that he didn’t think the bill’s passage would mean that extra fish would be caught.
Instead, Formica maintained, the additional fish that a fishermen can not bring to Connecticut shores could be taken to neighboring states with dual landings. Now, he said, those fish are often just thrown into the sea.
There was a lengthy discussion about who should take the lead on enacting such a fishing initiative — the state legislature or regulatory agencies of the different states.
DEEP Commissioner-Designee Katie Dykes submitted testimony stating that DEEP supports the “dual landing concept behind this bill,” but suggested that legislators let DEEP work with sister agencies on formalizing a program.
She said: “The proposed legislation would apply to all fish species for which commercial harvest is permitted. Several commercial fishers have expressed the opinion that while a dual landings program may be advantageous for a species like summer flounder, it would not be for other species and fisheries.”
Dykes added: DEEP currently has regulatory authority to implement a “dual landing” program, and has been working in concert with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to formulate a dual landings program, with a target implementation date of 2020.”
On the shark finning bill, of which Michel is a co-sponsor, many submitted written testimony in support.
Among them was Jo-Anne Basile, executive director of Connecticut Votes for Animals (CVA).
She called it a “cruel and heinous practice.”
In “finning”, a living shark’s fins are cut off, and the rest of the shark is usually thrown back into the water to die.
“This grisly practice is driven by the cheapest and most profitable way to meet the demand for shark fins, mostly for soup,’ Basile added. “Although finning is prohibited by federal law, it is impossible to determine whether the fins entering the U.S. market are coming from legal and sustainable practices and so fins sold in the U.S. may be the result of finning and even derived from endangered species.”
But legislators such as Somers, Formica and commercial fishermen told the committee to tread carefully if they move forward with the legislation to protect the shark fishermen.
Joint testimony submitted from the Connecticut Charter and Party Boat Association, which is comprised of 40 professional charter boats sailing from 10 different Connecticut ports covering the Western, Central and Eastern Long Island Sound, stated: “If this bill is written and interpreted to ban possession of sharks, that would prevent us from being able to perform our work/charters.”
The intention of the legislation is not to ban possession or fishing of sharks, but the organization worries if that’s the case there would be an immediate impact on their business.