CT shellfish industry receives much needed federal funding

Business

NOANK, Conn. (WTNH)– Connecticut shellfishermen have struggled to survive during this pandemic. But now some much needed federal help may keep them afloat.

Mystic Oysters hasn’t slowed down its operation along the Mystic River.

“So this is the size we’ll start to plant these out in the waters,” said Danielle Buttermore, who grows the oysters from the start. 

The Noank business now has plenty oysters but fewer buyers.

“Over the course of the season, we’ve produced ten million seed oysters out of this hatchery,” said Buttermore.

The pandemic almost sunk this shellfishing industry.

“The first two weeks a hundred percent,” said co-owner of Mystic Oysters Jim Markow. “The next two weeks probably 90 percent and it stayed about 90 percent for most of the time.”

With almost no income they were hoping for federal help. 

It didn’t come with the first round of the CFAP, Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, but they learned last month they will get CFAP money along with more federal help from the CARES ACT. But that $1.8 million dollars will be split among all fishermen in the state.

“That’s a pretty thin chunk of peanut butter to spread over that entire sector that’s there,” said Congressman Joe Courtney, (D) Connecticut.

 Mystic Oysters expects to get about $30,000 in federal help from both programs.

“I mean it’s a small percentage from of what we’ve lost. Something’s better than nothing and we’ll take any help we can get,” said Markow.

“This is a crop that takes three years to grow so you can’t stop production now,” said Senator Heather Somers, (R) Groton. “You have to continue or you will have nothing in the next years to come.”

And so they persevere during the pandemic and workers continue to separate out empty shells, dead oysters, and clamshells. After that, the oysters themselves are separated by size. The smaller ones will go to a restaurant.

The slowdown in restaurant sales hurt them the most. So they got creative with pop up sales straight to the consumer and they’re pursuing a frozen food line for supermarkets.

“That’s what COVID did is it makes people try to do different things to survive,” said Markow.

It doesn’t hurt to have others fighting for them as well. It may have helped make the federal government realize these farmers of the sea deserve the same federal funds as their onshore counterparts.

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