New leasing terms for state shell beds are causing a stir among shell fishermen in Connecticut, who say the new terms set by the state Department of Agriculture are unfair and unacceptable.
“It makes it very difficult to operate and takes away every bit of security that we have in growing our businesses based on state leases,” said Joe Gilbert, of Briarpatch Enterprises.
Fishermen say the new leases will allow the state to take away their fishing beds if they don't pay the lease invoice within 10 days, and will only give them 30 days to remove crops if they default on any part of the lease.
“Thirty days is not enough time to get all the product off, all the shellfish off. The 10-day problem in the new lease states that even if you don't receive a bill, and it's not paid within 10 days, they can take a lease away from you,” said Jim Salce, of Nutmeg Shellfish Farm.
The state Department of Agriculture says the 10-day rule actually takes effect after fishermen are granted an initial 14 days to pay the invoice.
“They're paying up front, so what we don't want to have a situation where people are actually out shell fishing for 30 days, 60 days, not paying that lease," said David Carey with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. "We won't ever recover that shellfish nor will we recover that revenue without going through a long process.”
State officials say the new leases are not meant to hinder the shell fishing industry, but bring it up to modern standards and make sure that all fishermen are paying their leases.
“This is not about the department taking away anyone's property rights. The department's demonstrated historically that we're willing to work with people when they fall behind on lease payments,” said Kristin DeRosia-Banick with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.