Staneski gets up-close look at clamming industry

State Rep. Pam Staneski said she wanted to better educate herself on the shell-fishing industry, so she recently spent four hours on an oyster boat owned by Briarpatch Enterprises Inc., observing the job of an oyster fisherman.

Joe and Nancy Gilbert are the owners of Briarpatch Enterprises, with headquarters on New Haven Avenue in Milford.

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture leases land at the bottom of Long Island Sound to companies, including Briarpatch, that seed the beds with oysters and clams that are later harvested and sold.

In recent years, fishermen like Gilbert have been vocal in fighting what they have at times described as restrictive state lease rules for the shellfish beds.

“I took Joe and Nancy up on their offer to tour around the Milford Harbor on one of their boats and learn what it takes to harvest oysters, maintain healthy oyster beds, and be good neighbors to the other farmers,” Staneski said.

Gilbert said Staneski was able to see up close the shellfish industry’s need for common sense regulations and its place as a vital industry feeding the local economy.

Staneski and State Sen. Heather Somers (R-Groton) introduced a bill this session that passed the General Assembly that will allow for additional state certified testing to handle the growing industry and ensure that samples from shellfish beds along the state’s coast are properly screened before sale.

Staneski said she has met with numerous shellfish company owners, including Briarpatch Enterprises, to determine how to cut the various costs and time associated with tissue and water sampling.

Over the years, the state has invested $5.3 million in bonding for shellfish seeding, which has grown to 7,000 acres of shellfish farms along coastal waters. Private companies have also invested heavily in bedding and preservation of these environmentally sensitive areas, state officials said.