Tool helps protect one of Long Island Sound’s important creatures

Photo of Josh LaBella

FAIRFIELD — State and local officials gathered by Ash Creek on Monday to laud the enhancement of Connecticut’s shellfish restoration program.

Officials said Public Act 21-24, which went into effect last year, aims to help repopulate one of the most important creatures in the Long Island Sound — shellfish.

“They are instrumental in helping to protect our shoreline from erosion by providing critical ecosystem functions, all with the structure and habitat for other species that provide a food source for fish and other marine species,” Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz said.

Bysiewicz said part of the mission of supporting and creating more habitats where shellfish live involves a new tool created by state agencies, environmental groups and representatives from the shellfish industry. The tool gathers maps and information on oyster habitats.

This is the first time such a map has been created in more than 100 years, she said.

Bryan Hurlburt, the state’s agriculture commissioner, said the most important part of the act is that officials now have a plan. Officials got all interested parties involved over the past few years to discuss what needs to be done to keep the natural resource available.

“We have this great aquaculture industry with our oyster operation. What do they need to make sure they have a future here in the Long Island Sound?” he said. “By putting together a plan, we now have the road map of what we need to do to ensure that the next couple hundred years can be as productive as the past few have been.”

Parts of that plan were incorporated into the act, including creating an oyster recycling program, supporting the Connecticut seafood industry and examining market opportunities, as well as starting a fund to help pay for shellfish projects and reviving the Connecticut Seafood Council.

Hurlburt said the council had essentially become dormant, adding such industry specific commissions help keep state officials in touch with what is happening on the ground and what needs to be focused on.

“By recharging that council, it’s another way for us to say the shellfish industry is important industry in the state of Connecticut,” he said. “We want their input. We want them to participate and we want to have that connection with them and to make sure that they have market opportunities available to them.”

Bysiewicz said it is a critical moment for this, as there are state, federal and other types of funds available to help build out the shellfish industry.

Hurlburt said some of that funding could go to specific restoration projects with the goal of building back long unused shellfish beds in the sound.

John Short, the chair of Fairfield’s shellfish commission, said shellfish beds like those found in Ash Creek are a treasure that need to be protected, nurtured and sustained.

“Now, that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com