The U.S. Commerce Department's disaster declaration for New England fisheries stirred a declaration of its own Friday from one of the few remaining Connecticut commercial fishermen who still goes after cod and flounder.
"I don't want a handout," Bob Guzzo, a fisherman out of Stonington, said into his cellphone over the roar of the wind as he fished off Montauk Point last Friday. "We just want to go to work."
On Thursday, the Commerce Department declared a commercial fishery failure in the Northeast groundfish fishery, citing a failure of key fish stocks to rebuild, despite catch limits that are expected to be lowered in 2013.
The key species are cod, winter and yellowtail flounder, but other species are also protected by severe catch limits.
Guzzo said the industry in the New England is suffering from a man-made mess. He said the government has been managing the fishery for 25 years, and it's a disaster. He said it's time to start over and work with fishermen, who say they see plenty of the species that are supposedly not recovering.
"There's so much fluke and summer flounder, but we can't take them," Guzzo said.
The declaration does not affect the lobster, oyster and clam industry or Connecticut's $10 million a year scallop fishing industry, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
What the declaration does is provide for the possibility that New England groundfish fishermen will be eligible for federal assistance, should it become available. There is a bill being debated that would provide $100 million in assistance to affected fishermen.
But Guzzo said the program he has heard about includes low interest loans as well as grants.
"How are we going to pay back a loan?" he said. "They're taking away our ability to make a living."
Connecticut's own groundfish industry has been decimated. DEEP said only 10 fishermen have commercial licenses for that fishery, and Guzzo said he thinks it's fewer. In 2008, Connecticut commercial fishermen reported landing $178,000 in ground fish. This year, they landed $13,000, DEEP reported.
"I feel really sorry for those guys in Boston and New Bedford," Guzzo said. "There are a lot of families going through hell."
There were similar reactions out of Boston from fishermen there.
But he said the Connecticut industry has been hit hard over the years.
"It's shriveled up," he said.
There has been a moratorium on commercial licences since 1995. And he couldn't think of a single commercial fin fisherman working out of Southwestern Connecticut.
Most the boats come out of Stonington and from the Thames River, he said.
The hope with the legislation is that it will allow some of these fishermen a little breathing room to live while the stocks replenish.
But Simpson said it's not just fishing that's a problem, global warming has affected some species.