Christine Cohen

State Senator

Christine Cohen

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Listening, Advocating & Getting Results

April 28, 2021

Sen. Cohen Leads Senate Passage of Shellfish Restoration Program

HARTFORD – State Senator Christine Cohen (D-Guilford), who is Senate Chair of the legislature’s Environment Committee, today led unanimous and bipartisan passage in the state Senate of a new bill that will help to promote and expand Connecticut’s aquaculture industry.

Connecticut’s shellfish industry generates in excess of $30 million in sales annually and employs 300 jobs statewide. The bill will expand the Shellfish Restoration Program and reconstitute the Connecticut Seafood Development Council in order to better promote Connecticut seafood products and examine market opportunities.

Perhaps more importantly for our seafood harvesters and producers, the bill re-defines the state’s definition of “farmland” to include underwater farmlands used for aquaculture. This would allow shellfish and seaweed farmers to take advantage of Connecticut’s Public Act 490 law, passed in 1963, and have their underwater shell fishing beds and “maritime heritage land” assessed at their ‘use’ value, rather than their ‘fair market’ value, which would result in lower annual local property taxes.

Senate Bill 840, “AN ACT CONCERNING CONNECTICUT’S SHELLFISH RESTORATION PROGRAM AND THE CONNECTICUT SEAFOOD COUNCIL,” passed the state Senate unanimously and now heads to the House of representatives for consideration.

“With more than 70,000 acres of shellfish farms under cultivation in Connecticut’s waters, this industry has played a tremendous part in creating jobs and revenue to coastal communities and beyond,” Sen. Cohen said. “Besides the obvious economic benefits to this legislation, there are terrific environmental advantages to this sustainable and green industry. From stabilizing and improving sediments to helping to clean our waters and protect from erosion, aquaculture serves a critical function to our underwater ecosystem.”

Traditional oyster seed collection includes the spreading “cultch,” which is recycled oyster shells, on the sea floor bed. Over time, spat (oyster larvae) settle on to the empty oyster shells, maturing to a harvestable size.

The bill directs the state Department of Agriculture to – using non-state dollars – purchase and distribute shell on the state state’s existing, designated natural oyster seed beds in Long Island Sound and in Connecticut rivers, such as the Mystic River and the Thames River.

The Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) was designated as Connecticut’s official state shellfish in 1989. It grows naturally in Connecticut’s tidal rivers and coastal bays and is cultivated in seeded beds in Long Island Sound by oyster farmers. Oysters were also a staple part of the diet of early European settlers in Connecticut; oystering has been allowed by law in Connecticut since 1750.

The reconstitution of the Connecticut Seafood Development Council will expand membership and reflect the current industry by including a kelp producer, a finish producer, a shellfish harvester and wholesaler, as well as a representative from the Connecticut Restaurant Association.

More than 70,000 acres of shellfish farms are cultivated in Connecticut’s coastal waters, harvesting over 200,000 bushels of oysters from Long Island Sound and Fisher’s Island Sound every year.