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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

CT Delegation Raises Concerns With Upcoming Hearing on Fishing Waters

January 29, 2016
Press Release
Legislators have penned a letter asking that Connecticut stakeholders be allowed to participate in a hearing next week on the redesignation of EEZ waters in the vicinity of Block Island

WASHINGTON— After hearing directly from concerned Connecticut fishermen about legislation that would remap the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in Long Island Sound, the Congressional Delegation has penned a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans of the House Committee on Natural Resources requesting that stakeholders from Connecticut be included in a hearing next week on H.R. 3070, the EEZ Clarification Act—legislation that would redesignate 150 square miles of federal EEZ waters in the vicinity of Block Island Sound as New York and Rhode Island state waters.

“It seems unreasonable to us that a decision of this magnitude, which will have a significant impact on Connecticut fishermen would be made without any input from stakeholders in our state,” said the delegation members. “This change would prevent Connecticut fishermen and lobstermen from harvesting in waters around Block Island Sound as they have done for decades, unless first obtaining costly permits from New York or Rhode Island. We believe that this misguided legislation was crafted strategically to benefit certain states while disproportionately harming the Connecticut fishing industry. At the very least, any consideration of this bill going forward should include voices from all areas that would be impacted by this change – including from our state.”

Robert Klee, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said: “Connecticut’s objections to this bill extend well beyond striped bass management which seems to be at the core of this bill. Connecticut commercial fishermen operate in what are now federal waters (EEZ) under federal fishery permits. If these federal waters become state waters divided between the states of New York (NY) and Rhode Island (RI), access to these waters will be lost to these Connecticut Commercial fishermen. This is already the case for lobstermen fishing in any waters that fall under RI jurisdiction as that state prohibits non-residents from fishing for lobsters in their waters.”

Joseph Gilbert, Owner of Stonington-based Empire Fisheries, said: “I have engaged my colleagues and fellow fishermen regarding H.R. 3070 and we collectively oppose the passage of this bill. H.R 3070, if passed, would result in approximately 150 square miles of the Exclusive Economic Zone in and around Block Island Sound being transferred to the states of New York and Rhode Island for the purposes of fisheries management. This transfer of authority over such a vast area of the Exclusive Economic Zone constitutes a land grab by New York and Rhode Island in addition to the improper reallocation of fishing rights amongst current users.”

If passed, this legislation would move the EEZ eastward to a new landward boundary between Montauk, New York and Point Judith, Rhode Island. Additionally, the redesignation of these federal waters as state waters would cause significant changes to the management of the striped bass fish stocks in Long Island Sound.

Congressman Lee Zeldin of Long Island, NY introduced H.R. 3070 in July of 2015. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans will hold a legislative hearing on the EEZ Clarification Act on February 2, 2016.

To see the final delegation letter, click here

To see a letter from Commissioner Robert Klee, click here

To see a letter from Joseph Gilbert, click here

 

The text of the delegation letter is copied below:

January 29, 2016

Chairman John Fleming                                                                 Ranking Member Jared Huffman
Subcommittee on Water,                                                             Subcommittee on Water,
Power and Oceans                                                                          Power and Oceans
Natural Resources Committee                                                   Natural Resources Committee
1324 Longworth House Office Building                                   1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515                                                                   Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Fleming and Ranking Member Huffman:

It has come to our attention that the House Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee plans to hold a legislative hearing on H.R. 3070, the EEZ Clarification Act. This legislation seeks to remap the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in Long Island Sound to a new landward boundary between Montauk, New York and Point Judith, Rhode Island. However, for the Subcommittee to fully understand the scope of this legislation, we believe that it is prudent to invite stakeholders from all areas impacted by the EEZ change—including the state of Connecticut.

As you know, this legislation would transfer 150 square miles of the EEZ in and around Block Island Sound to the states of New York and Rhode Island for fisheries management. This transfer of fisheries control will deny Connecticut fishermen from harvesting in these waters which they have fished for decades. The New England Marine Fisheries Council has been managing fisheries in this EEZ since 1976 and this change would result in confusion and subsequent fines for Connecticut fishermen who have historically fished in these waters. While supporters of this legislation contend that it will empower local fishermen by restoring access to fish stocks and allowing state management of waters, we believe it is imperative to underscore the major economic losses that the Connecticut fishing industry would face as a result of this misguided bill.

In addition to negatively impacting our fishing industry, this bill would serve a major blow to the rebuilding of the striped bass stock. In a letter from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Commissioner Robert Klee contends, “(t)he waters around Block Island seem to be holding an unusually large proportion of the adult striped bass population in recent years. Converting these federal waters to state jurisdiction will expose these reproductive age fish to significant mortality which our public hearings on striped bass management tell us would be opposed by the vast majority of anglers.” Furthermore, this conversion to state fisheries management and subsequent increased striped bass harvest would contradict an approved 2014 addendum by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) which directs states to reduce striped bass harvests by 25%.

It is our belief that this legislation was narrowly crafted to benefit selected states. With Connecticut state government officials and local fishermen alike vocally opposing H.R. 3070—including Connecticut members of the Southern New England Fishermen and Lobstermen’s Association—we strongly urge you to include an opposing witness from Connecticut at the legislative hearing to better understand the full scope of this bill. Attached to this letter, you will find letters of opposition from Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee and Southern New England Fishermen and Lobstermen’s Association member Joe Gilbert. We will continue to monitor the progress of this legislation. If you have any questions, please contact Alexa Combelic in Congressman Courtney’s office at 202-225-2076 or alexa.combelic@mail.house.gov.

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