HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A last-minute maneuver in the legislature followed quickly by a green light from a regional governing body is putting the lucrative eel industry within Connecticut's reach.
Days after a deal by state lawmakers cleared the way for eel fisheries in Connecticut, a 15-state regional agency proposed to ease rules allowing broader access to the multimillion-dollar global eel market.
Rep. Craig Miner, who engineered the legislative deal, is a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a group from Maine to Florida. David Simpson, director of Marine Fisheries in the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, also is a commissioner.
Fisheries for baby eel, or elver, operate only in South Carolina and Maine. In Maine, the catch has generated $32 million for each of the past two years. That monopoly needs to end, Simpson said.
"Why is it so overwhelmingly concentrated in one state? If we're going to have fisheries, let's talk about opening it more fairly," he said.
The Atlantic states group voted Monday to propose that states may open certain eel fisheries if they can show habitats have improved, said Kate Taylor, senior fisheries management plan coordinator. Catch limits had been imposed because the American eel is at or near historically low levels due to overfishing, habitat loss, predators, contaminants and other threats.
Final regulations could be approved as early as this summer following hearings and public comment.
Simpson said Connecticut fisheries would not lead to an overall rise in eel catches on the East Coast. The catch would instead be redistributed among the states, he said.
State legislation opening Connecticut waters to eel fishing passed the House and Senate minutes before the annual session ended Wednesday night. State Rep. Ted Moukawsher opposed it and said he was angry at the maneuvering that got the bill over the finish line.