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The Last of the Fleet

While Little Narragansett Bay holds one of Connecticut’s only remain- ing fishing and lobstering fleets, fish and fishermen are still essential to the Stonington community. Bill Bomster is one of the last of the independents. He became a scallop fisherman in 1976. He joined his father’s crew five days after graduating high school and has been in the business ever since.

Anyone who knows good seafood knows Bill. His are some of the only scallops that are vacuum-packed and frozen fresh at sea. If you order them from one of 60 restaurants along Connecticut’s coast—or buy some from Stonington Seafood Harvesters in Stonington Borough—what you’re eating is practically just off the knife.

After 30 years as captain, Bomster has seen the full ebb and flow of New England’s fishing fleets. When he started scalloping, he was out at sea for 265 days a year. Thirteen days on, six days off. Now, his ships are only allowed to go out for 33 days.

In the late 80s, the scallop population dwindled. The government took measures to cut down on fishing and let the scallops recuperate. The number of fishing days have shrunk every year since. Bill acknowledges some of the benefits to these precautions. The scallops can grow larger and are more valuable than ever. “We’re very close to having a perfect thing. We don’t fish that much, we throw the shells back, and we stir up the bottom a bit.”
However, the high price of permits and the shrinking number of days at sea take money out of the community and make it almost impossible for young people to become fishermen.

“Unless things open up, and we get a shot at more product, I don’t think it’s going to be good. I think there’s a possibility that we could be gone. If I get down to fishing 10 days, I’m outta here. Then that boat’s gone, and that money’s gone. That’s what’s happened to the fleet. Unless something happens to keep young people attracted, it’s going to go away.”

There’s a chance that the tide might change in 2015, but if it doesn’t, the days of premium quality seafood along Connecticut’s shoreline might be behind us. Until then? “Be very careful where you get your fish. Go to where it’s harvested.”

Stonington Seafood Harvesters can be found at 4 High Street in Stonington and sells fish, soup, and crab cakes alongside Bill’s scallops. If you want to try some and meet the fishermen, visit the upcoming Stonington Farmers Market, every Saturday from 9 to noon during the summer.

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