U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney met with state officials and shellfish farmers in Noank Thursday to promote legislation that would allow shellfish growers to apply for grants to market their products.
A law passed in 2004 provides grants to help market specialty crops, but excludes shellfish farmers.
The proposed legislation, called the Shellfish Marketing Assistance Fairness Act, would add the farmers to the list so they can compete with growers of other crops such as vegetables, fruits and nursery plants.
“This bill will help us tremendously,” said Karen Rivara, secretary of the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative, which has ten members who raise mostly oysters. “It’s hard for us to have the money to market our product.”
Connecticut has received about $1.2 million through the marketing program since 2006, and expects to receive another $400,000 this summer, said Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky. The goal is to further an industry as a whole, rather than benefit individual farmers, he said.
Courtney said the bill would not cost additional money, but would divide what is available more fairly.
“It is not about creating new spending. It just means there is going to be a new allocation of how the funding is shared,” he said.
Grants of $75,000 per project are available on a competitive basis, and are geared toward associations and cooperatives.
Steve Plant, an oyster farmer and member of the Noank cooperative, said about six oysters farmers in Groton produce about 500,000 to 600,000 oysters per year. He said money from the grant program could be used to educate the public.
“A lot of this money I think could go toward educating consumers about the quality of the product and the environmental benefit,” he said.
Every adult oyster filters 20 liters of water a day, removing algae from the water, an environmental issue in Long Island Sound. Plant said there is also a misconception that eating raw shellfish is riskier than eating cooked chicken, for instance. He said this is not the case.
Groton’s Shellfish Commission Chairman Ed Martin said recreational shell fishing is also a significant activity in town. The commission sells 2,000 shellfish permits per year.
Groups including the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, CT Seafood Council, and U-Conn Sea Grant support the proposed legislation. Courtney said he wants the shellfish industry to have more of a voice in future farming laws.
“People really feel that this is an industry that deserves a place at the table in making sure it’s promoted,” he said.