DOAG: Connecticut Seafood Advisory Council Update

This article appeared in the July 3, 2013 edition of the Ag Report

 

 

Connecticut Seafood Advisory Council Update

David Carey, Director, Bureau of Aquaculture

 

The Connecticut Seafood Advisory Council (CSAC) has been designated under Connecticut General Statutes Section 22-455 to assist Connecticut’s seafood industry in the examination of new market opportunities and promotion of Connecticut seafood products. 

 

The CSAC statutorily consists of the following:

  • a freshwater finfish producer
  • four finfish, shellfish, or lobster harvesters
  • one retailer serving or representing restaurants
  • one member at large

The following individuals presently are appointees to the council:

  • Larry Williams, a shellfish producer
  • Michael Theiler, a lobster, conch, finfish, and sea scallop harvester
  • D. J. King, a lobster and conch harvester, aquaculture oyster and bay scallop producer, and permit holder for long-line seaweed kelp cultivation
  • Chad Simoneaux, a wholesaler purchaser and distributor of seafood products
  • Bill Clayton, an aquaculture tank producer, bait fisherman, and distributor 
  • Paul Formica, a seafood restaurant owner and retailer
  • In addition to these voting members, the council has three nonvoting members:
  • David Carey, director of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture
  • David Simpson, director of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Division of Marine Fisheries
  • Nancy Balcom, associate director of the University of Connecticut’s Sea Grant Extension Program

Connecticut is home to a diverse commercial fishing community.  The many different segments of the industry range from the fleets of Stonington and New London—which travel offshore into federal waters to harvest sea scallops and salt-water finfish—to the local commercial boats setting and hauling traps for lobster, finfish, and several species of whelk (the large snails commonly referred to as “conch”), to small aquaculture finfish and oyster operations. 

 

The state’s shellfish harvesting industry alone comprises 12 very large operations and 25 small operations that harvest hard clams and oysters from throughout Long Island Sound using a variety of cultivation techniques. 

 

There are approximately 20 finfish producers working the waters of Long Island Sound, including trawlers harvesting using large nets and others who trap fish using pots.  The harbors of New London and Stonington are home to fleets of boats that travel offshore in pursuit of sea scallops and saltwater fish. 

 

A handful of lobstermen still set lobster pots, but must also fish other species in the face of declining lobster populations in order to make a living from the waters of Long Island Sound. 

 

In addition, the CSAC also represents restaurants as well as retail and wholesale dealers of seafood, making this group that much more varied.

 

The council has sought to expand opportunities for local seafood producers in the Connecticut marketplace via implementation of a comprehensive statewide local seafood program.  The greatest challenge by far has been identifying the best means by which to serve this very diverse community.  Great disparity exists between operations.  

 

The larger operations ship product to the Boston and New York markets—those distribution hubs can handle the large volume of product harvested—while the smaller harvesters often sell to Connecticut wholesale distributors or directly to restaurants.  Many of Connecticut’s smaller finfish harvesters, however, sell through three wholesale operations that prepare and package the finfish for wholesale distribution.  By comingling the harvest of each small harvester, these wholesalers generate volume and then ship those larger combined loads to Boston or New York. 

 

The general public (direct or retail market) and restaurants and wholesale distributors are among the most under-served consumer markets and represent opportunity for locally harvested Connecticut seafood sales.  The CSAC intends to create a dockside pilot program through which five or more small harvesters and producers would sell directly to these consumer groups. 

 

Although individual harvesters have been able to sell their daily catch, to a limited degree, at farmers’ markets and at the pier, such sales are often affected by the lack of a mechanism by which to communicate with potential customers.  In order to increase the consumer base for these products, the CSAC envisions using mobile social media to inform potential customers of the catch of the day and prices while steaming back to port, enabling customers to determine what they would like to purchase in advance.

 

The council predicts that the customer base will expand as restaurants and restaurant suppliers are able to plan ahead and can decide whether the trip to the pier would be advantageous in terms of the cost and variety of products available. 

 

The industry members and CSAC will finalize the pilot project when they have identified the most effective and cost-effective media outlet by which to inform consumers of the catch of the day.

 

In addition to creating this pilot project, the CSAC has a representative serving on the Marketing working group of the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development, which engages representatives from various sectors of the state’s agricultural industry to develop and implement effective, strategic marketing programs as part of a long-term, holistic plan for Connecticut agriculture.

 

The CSAC has for many years promoted the theme, “Connecticut Caught, As Fresh as it Gets” at events throughout the state and at regional events such as the Big E.  Most recently, the council provided clam chowder and freshly shucked oysters on the half shell at Connecticut Agriculture Day at the Capitol in Hartford. 

 

These events provide the CSAC an opportunity to reach out to legislators and the general public to educate consumers and policy makers about Connecticut’s local seafood products and industry. 

 

The council’s fresh seafood offerings are among the most highly anticipated at the events in which it participates and attract a wide variety of admirers ranging from those who have never eaten a clam or oyster to those who have cultivated an appreciation of Connecticut’s seafood bounty and are willing to endure long lines to sample our delicacies. 

 

Please stop by at the next event to say hello, and get to know Connecticut’s seafood as well as the people who produce it.