CT delegation looks for ways to aid shellfish farmers hit by Irene

Two members of the Connecticut delegation introduced legislation today that would pave the way for shellfish farmers to be eligible for agriculture-related disaster aid programs.

The “Shellfish Equity Act,” sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Joseph Lieberman, would add shellfish to the list of “specialty crops” that are now covered by federal agriculture disaster relief programs. Farmers who harvest corn, soybeans and other crops are eligible for a range of such programs, but shellfish farmers aren’t covered.

“Our shellfish industry–severely damaged by Irene–deserves and needs the assistance that all other farmers receive, so they can recover and rebuild,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “This measure would treat shellfish farmers on par with other agricultural producers, and ensure that they have the same eligibility for emergency aid.”

He and Lieberman said the recovery of that industry is vital to Connecticut. Other members of the delegation, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, are seeking relief for shellfish farmers through the Commerce Department.

But the prospects both those efforts are unclear. In the past, other special crop interest groups have lobbied against expanding the list of those who are eligible for the disaster aid.

In the meantime, an official with the U.S. Small Business Administration said that shellfish farmers may be eligible for disaster-relief loans from that agency.

“We recognize that aquaculture in Connecticut has been hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene, then by the runoff from remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, said Tom Nocera, a spokesman with the SBA’s office of disaster aid. He said any businesses, including shellfish operations, could be eligible for economic-injury loans with interest rates as low as 4 percent.