DOAG: Connecticut Department of Agriculture Employee Spotlight: David Carey

This article appeared in the November 20, 2013 edition of the Ag Report.

Connecticut Department of Agriculture Employee Spotlight: David Carey


David Carey (DC) is the director of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg)’s Bureau of Aquaculture, headquartered in Milford.  The Connecticut Weekly Agricultural Report (CWAR) sat down with David earlier this month to learn more about his critical work at the agency.


CWAR:  What responsibilities fall under the Bureau of Aquaculture?


DC:     As the lead agency for shellfish in Connecticut, we cover both commercial and recreational shellfish programs, and are responsible for measures to increase the health and safety of shellfish harvested from Connecticut beds in and along Long Island Sound. 


Our staff includes five environmental analysts, a microbiologist, a pathologist, a boat captain, a research ship engineer, an administrative assistant, and myself.  The team conducts inspections, field monitoring, water collection, education, meat sampling, and bacteria/virus testing of water and shellfish samples at our laboratory.  Next year we will begin sampling and testing for Vibrio bacteria in addition to the other species we already test for, allowing us to be that much more responsive to industry needs. 


We currently monitor 800 water sampling stations throughout Long Island Sound that are located next to potential sources of pollution.  We test samples from those stations to determine if those areas should be open to harvest, and test frequently after adverse conditions that cause closures (such heavy rain) to determine the soonest possible date those beds can safely reopen and harvesters can resume business in those areas. 


CWAR:  As bureau director, you must wear a number of different hats.  Describe some of them.


DC:  As the lead on shellfish in the state, we attempt to coordinate activities with all agencies involved with shellfish and aquaculture.  There is a lot of interaction, intersection, and overlap among them. 

We also serve as liaison to municipalities that lease state-owned lands along the shoreline.  There are about 20,000 acres that were entrusted to municipal control of leasing back in the 1800s. 


We directly handle leases on another 60,000 acres of state-owned land in Long Island Sound, issuing and renewing the leases, collecting the revenue, allocating it to the proper accounts, and all other necessary administration to ensure proper care of the taxpayers' resources.


Shipping shellfish to other states requires adherence with FDA’s National Shellfish Sanitation Program model ordinance, which is the 400-page official regulatory guidance document for shipping interstate.  I serve as a committee member of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), which meets every other year and reviews any suggested amendments to the document.  The committee structure is one-third shellfish harvesters, one-third FDA staff, and one-third state regulatory agency personnel. 


As bureau director I make official determinations on any significant impacts to shellfish grounds in Connecticut, including those held by the state, municipalities, and private parties.  Examples of activities that would have significant impacts include the construction of docks, dredging, and that sort of thing.

We issue licenses for shellfish harvesters and wholesalers, perform related inspections, and take action on violators who cause risks or compromise the safety of the product.

We believe an educational approach to compliance is best in terms of regulatory enforcement.  Simply assessing penalties does not necessarily result in safety improvements.  Education does.  Our team works very hard to help industry members understand the reasons for the rules as well as how to remain in compliance with them.


CWAR:  Is there a “typical” day at work for you?


DC:  No.  Connecticut currently has 45 shellfish harvesters and another 30 wholesale dealers, so there are always a lot of different things going on.  It keeps the job interesting, to say the least.

About half of the state's shellfish are relayed, meaning they are moved from areas of lower water quality to areas of high water quality, where they filter out any possible pollutants before harvesting. 


This moving occurs year-round, and we have to monitor it closely to make sure that all quality requirements are met before shellfish are harvested.  That monitoring involves a huge amount of attention and record-keeping.  We are making advances in technology that allow us to do this more efficiently and accurately.

Some of the other issues we deal with on a seasonal basis occur in other parts of the world at different times of year, so we work hard to study those, learn from them, and be as proactive as possible before the next season arrives here in Connecticut.  An example of this is the fluctuating levels of Vibrio bacteria that occur naturally in marine waters.  Watching patterns in other parts of the world has helped us better predict what will happen here and develop response plans that have been a model for the nation.


CWAR:  When did you join DoAg?  What led you here?


DC:  I graduated from the University of Connecticut's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, where I studied agricultural economics and rural sociology, along with animal science.  I spent 10 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, where I served as county executive director, and then joined the Connecticut Department of Agriculture in 1998 as the executive director of the Hartford Regional Market.  I became the director of the Bureau of Aquaculture in 2003.  Within six months, I lost nearly half of my employees to retirement.  As a result, eight of our employees have been hired since then, bringing a lot of fresh energy, ideas, education, and new skills.

When I arrived here there was only one computer with a painfully slow dial-up Internet connection.   Every employee now has a workstation with high-speed Internet.  We have moved from paper shellfish maps to GIS map and electronic reports.  Our boats used to navigate by paper but now use GPS systems.  Staff now make management decisions using technology and formulas that analyze data in ways not possible when I arrived.  We have changed our shellfish and water testing methods from labor-intensive MPN, which required test tubes and limited the number we could run at any one time, to M-TEK with disposable agar kits, saving an enormous amount of time and labor and allowing us to process many more samples at once.  This makes us much more efficient and productive.


CWAR:  How has your education and previous work experience helped in your role(s) at DoAG?


DC:  Science, statistics, math, computers, and agriculture are all things I liked in college and use in my job.  The work I did and contacts I made at USDA also help me with what I do now.  Land conservation translates into bed shellfish conservation/restoration; the process of application review, administration, and management is similar; and water pollution control on land correlates to water quality for shellfish.  Of course it also helps that I have outstanding staff with additional scientific education and experience that fills in the gaps.


CWAR:  What skills and qualities do you have that make you well suited to lead the bureau?


DC:  I’m a really good dancer.  Seriously, I think an ability to understand the nature of individuals’ difficulty with regulatory bodies is very helpful when one is in a position of regulation.  My team works hard and takes the extra time and effort to educate and develop solutions with regard to compliance, rather than just inflicting penalties.  The rules and regulations we enforce are about ensuring public safety, so how we convey this information is extremely important.  And for the most part, our industry members feel as though staff are here to assist—rather than police—them. 


We’re in the field regularly, which helps us relate to producers.


Of course, as entrepreneurs, industry members want immediate action so they can continue to run their businesses, and we are sensitive to that.  We are not big on sitting on things, or taking a long time to get things done.  We try to provide outstanding service, be accessible at all times, and be responsive to our customers’ needs.

It also helps that we all personally love shellfish and want it to be of the highest quality.


CWAR:  What is the hardest part of the job?


DC:  Planning based on our known workload is a challenge.  It is really difficult to submit budgets and personnel needs based on hard data but not have control over the outcome of those requests.  If we don’t have the needed resources to do our job as well or as efficiently as we know we can be, we have to make difficult decisions and prioritize based on limitations in resources.  Those limitations unfortunately affect the industry and our ability to help the industry grow and thrive.


CWAR:  What do you find most satisfying about your work?


DC:  Many industry members genuinely appreciate the work we do, and tell us this when nobody else is listening.  That sort of sincerity is definitely gratifying.  It is also very gratifying to help grow an industry in our state with so much potential, and to develop opportunities for new shellfishermen of all ages, including the many young people educated in Connecticut’s excellent aquaculture schools.  I enjoy bringing in new and emerging technology to help move the industry forward.  And seeing Connecticut’s clam numbers rise tremendously in the past decade, as well as a steady increase in oysters, is a tangible, measurable outcome of our work.


CWAR:  What are some highlights of your time with the agency?


DC:  We’ve grown the industry, creating new opportunities and enhancing both competition and quality.  We’ve educated on the importance of time-temperature relationships concerning potential food-safety threats, setting an example for the rest of the nation, enhancing Connecticut shellfish quality, and reducing potential risks. Many industry members have voluntarily adopted new measures based on this education, making their product safer and of even higher quality.  That validates our educational approach to regulation.


CWAR:  What professional achievements are you most proud of?


DC:  Fifteen licensed shellfish harvesters have entered the industry since I became director.  A few have left during that time, but the net growth of 10 is very substantial and something I’m proud of.

I’ve also had the opportunity to serve on a number of task forces including those addressing natural gas pipelines and underground electric cables, and those establishing Connecticut Energy Advisory Board best policies, convincing them of the short- and long-term damage of underground construction projects to aquatic life in the sound.


CWAR:  Tell us about your dream job.


DC:  I have enjoyed parts of every job I’ve had and have learned and grown in each.  In terms of what I’m doing now, my dream, my vision—and I do believe it is achievable—is to create an environment where every individual has an equal opportunity to grow and produce high-quality, sustainable sea products in Long Island Sound.  That is where our state’s largest farms, by far, are located, and where there is tremendous opportunity if managed appropriately and equitably.  I also want to create management plans and best management practices that sustain the industry and help it thrive long into the future.