Posted on July 31, 2023
Ron Helbig, managing partner of Mystic Shipyard, led Gov. Ned Lamont and officials on a tour Thursday morning of the Essex Street facility in Mystic, pointing out features from the pressure wash recycling equipment to the rigging areas.
Helbig said during a news conference that the shipyard has a long heritage of shipbuilding and he appreciates the state’s support of the marine industry.
Lamont and other officials visited the shipyard and the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative to learn about two industries that are faring well after the COVID-19 pandemic and what help they need from the state.
Connecticut Marine Trades Association President Tasha Cusson said a couple of years ago when the pandemic hit, marinas were in trouble, but were helped when Lamont designated them as essential businesses that could stay open. The state also has maintained a 2.99% sales tax on boats, so it can compete with Rhode Island and other neighboring states.
But Cusson said the industry, which employs 13,000 people in Connecticut and has $313 million in annual sales of boats, trailers, repairs and accessories also is facing challenges: namely marinas that require dredging.
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said Connecticut marinas received good news last spring when yearslong litigation over a Long Island Sound disposal site ended.
But she said the marinas are having problems getting their permits processed. Dredging projects require approval by Connecticut, New York and then, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“We’re having a very difficult time getting New York to approve our permits here in the state of Connecticut, which puts our marinas and our economic prowess that we have here in the state of Connecticut at risk,” Somers said.
Lamont said he is working with fellow Democrat, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, on the dredging issue.
The industry also is looking for its next generation of workers, said Cusson. She pointed out that Middlesex Community College and many marinas offer training in marine trades.
With younger members of the industry in attendance at the event, State Rep. Aundré Bumgardner, D-Groton, said it’s great to see young people getting involved in the industry and the investment in the workforce.
Later in the morning, Lamont visited Noank Aquaculture Cooperative, where he got to sample an oyster and learn about the aquaculture industry.
Tessa Getchis, aquaculture extension coordinator with Connecticut Sea Grant at the University of Connecticut, told The Day that the aquaculture industry collapsed overnight when restaurants shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the state’s more than 50 farms emerged strong from the pandemic.
She said they tried innovative methods, including direct sales at farmers markets, vineyards and breweries, and built a local consumer base.
Steve Plant, owner of Connecticut Cultured Oysters, and his daughter, Sydney Plant, opened a stand at Ford’s Lobster in Noan, where they shuck oysters. The stand is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Jim Markow, president of the cooperative and president of Mystic Oysters, said it’s important to continue funding for the Bureau of Aquaculture so it can maintain its water quality testing.
Norman Bloom, owner of Norm Bloom and Son, who works with Markow, said the most important thing is clean water. He said testing is important to ensure products are safe for the market, and shellfish farmers in Connecticut are fortunate that the state is active in that.
Commissioner of Agriculture Bryan Hurlburt said when people think about agriculture, they should also think about aquaculture.
“There’s men and women working the grounds out in Long Island Sound making sure that these products are fresh, they’re safe, they’re delicious,” he said. “It’s really important as it all adds up to Connecticut as an agricultural state.”
The state has 70,000 acres of shellfish beds and some of the oysters are sold up and down the East Coast and all the way to the Midwest, Hurlburt said.
“You can tell the quality by the market that they reach,” he said.