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CRONKITE: The Stonington fishing fleet is the last surviving commercial fishing fleet in CT, and a unique link to an industry that has for more than 250 years been a major part of Connecticutís maritime heritage. 

FRED CALABRETTA (Assoc. Curator, Mystic Seaport): There are two or three or four extended families that have been involved in fishing in Stonington for three or four generations and are still involved today. They have a lot of pride in Ė in the fishing way of life. 

And at the same time thatís an aspect of it that is in jeopardy because the current generation of young men, the 18 and 20-year olds are in most cases finding other occupations. So weíre at the point right now where there is an impending break in that Ötradition. 

CRONKITE: Retired lobsterman Arthur Medeiros had his own lobster boat at the age of 13.

ARTHUR MEDEIROS (Retired Stonington Fisherman): Everybody I grew up with worked, fished, they were either lobstering, weíd bait scallop. We were always down when the boats come in at night.It was the town thing. 

At the time a fisherman he made pretty good money. When you go back in the late 30ís, early 40ís, $100, $200 a week, that was a lot of money. 

I know what it represents to me. Youíre just free. Free as a bird. Ö But I think the air, the salt water, itís there. Once you get the bug, believe me, itís right there.

CRONKITE: Arthur's son Mike Medeiros now works in the computer industry.

MIKE MEDEIROS (Former Stonington Fisherman): One thing about the fishing showed me growing up watching my father and the way he loved his work, I learned what itís like to really love what you do.

When my father began he could make a lot more money on the ocean than he could on land. When I came along and I spent some time fishing with him, that wasnít the case any more. With government regulations and the depletion of the fishing stocks, itís a very uncertain future. Thatís one of the reasons why I personally didnít go into the business full time.

CRONKITE: Anne Rita's family has been in the fishing industry since 1916.

ANN RITA (Bookkeeper, Stonington Fishing Fleet): I work here at the docks. I do all the bookkeeping for all the boats down here and it makes Ė helps ends meet. The fishing industry is not what it used to be. Thereís more rules, regulations, how much they can catch, how much they can bring in, but we donít struggle by any means, you know, we just Ė we live comfortably.

I married my husband who was a commercial fisherman, lived right across the street.  Weíve been married for 25 years, our first year he quit fishing and went to EB and he couldnít. It was like the Ė the sea drew him and I said go for itÖ But as far as my two boys if they really wanted to I wouldnít stop them but I would hope that they did something else because I donít know whatís going to happen in years to come 

CRONKITE: Anneís husband, John Rita started working for Arthur Medeiros in 1971.

JOHN RITA (Capt., Seafarer Fishing Boat): Youíve got to save the fish and the fisherman. Ölet us go out and make a living and send our kids to school and give them the education and so forth. Thatís all we want. 

CRONKITE: John Rita has witnessed many changes through the years in his former home town of Stonington

JOHN RITA (Capt., Seafarer Fishing Boat): It used to be a complete fishing village.  It was mostly a Portuguese village and people were very close knit and would help one another tremendously in times of need. 

Right now a lot of the people have sold the house for good money, I guess, because itís on the water and people you donít even know from New York or whichever have bought the places. Thereís a lot of antiques downtown where there were no stores,it was just a lot closer knit then, believe me, believe me.

CRONKITE: One thing that has not changed in Stonington is the annual Blessing of the Fleet. The Blessing of the Fleet started in1954 as both a celebration of the fishing way of life and as a way to honor those who have lost their lives at sea.

FRED CALABRETTA (Assoc. Curator, Mystic Seaport): Itís a community celebration, a family celebration and itÖ also reflects Portuguese culture and the Portuguese traditions of many of the fishermen.  Itís sort of a renewal and reinforces their way of life.  And it includes a parade through town, the actual blessing of the boats when the regional Bishop blesses the boats as they pass by in procession. They then go out and throw a memorial wreath with a symbolic broken anchor overboard in honor of those who have been lost.

Despite safety advancements and technological advancements, fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. 

MUSIC: Forebitter Heidi Marie

Another boat is lost from Stonington harbor,
Lobstermen this time,
God help the sons and daughters,
Of the ones that make their living harvesting the sea

Hard winds of November,
Cold arms of the deep,
Old spirit of the fisherman,
Cast your locks upon the sea.


TERRY BACKER (Long Island Sound Keeper): I was born into the fishing industry and later became politicized to the point where I started looking at the environment. For me itís just been part of my life.  

MUSIC: Callinan Ė Long Island Soundís Been Good to Me

Oh, Long Island Sound has been good to be,
It taught me to swim and my love of the sea.
But now it needs help from others like me,
Who say Long Island Soundís good to me.

TERRY BACKER (Long Island Sound Keeper): I later went on to become a Soundkeeper because I saw the Ė the environment of Long Island Sound slipping drastically in the late 70ís and early 80ís. It was really becoming one big sewage pot.

Iím employed by the Long Island Soundkeeper Fund which is a nonprofit organization. Our job is to protect the biological, physical and chemical integrity of this water body. Itís a huge job.

Things are improving, however, when you look at their improving you also have to look at, you know, three centuries of abuse from everything from wetland filling to toxic legacy in the sediment to declining fish stocks and species. The Sound has a long way to come back and the only way itís going to come back is continued resolve to stay at it at all times.

And my love of the sea,
But know it needs help from others like me.

This Sound is our national park. We donít have a Yellowstone or a Yosemite or a Baxter State Park. We donít have anything on that scale. Long Island Sound is Connecticutís equivalent to a national park.

GOV. JOHN ROWLAND (Connecticut): Well, itís one of our greatest resources. Economically it has Ė pays huge benefits.  We really lost a lot of our water quality a dozen or so years ago and we found the people werenít harvesting oysters here and that from a recreational standpoint people werenít swimming here as much as they used to and boating and fishing and so forth.

Weíve began to clean up our waste water treatment facilities in New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford, Waterbury and along the coast as well so thatís helped a great, great deal.  Weíve spent  half a billion dollars in the last six years.  Weíve been able to bring back the oysters, weíve been able to bring back the fish, you have more recreation here than ever before, but I think we can do a lot better. We realize not only is it a quality of life issue itís an economic development issue.

Who say Long Island Soundís good to me.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012