News

New group of students trained in seafood safety

Before a bowl of clam chowder or a freshly grilled swordfish steak ends up on a restaurant diner’s plate, specially trained seafood handlers will have been working to eliminate any risk of contamination or hazards that could cause illness.
Many of those handlers will have learned their skills in training offered by Connecticut Sea Grant, including the most recent one from Sept. 12-14.
The three days of training took place at the Avery Point campus of the University of Connecticut. There, 22 seafood processors, wholesalers and dealers in products ranging from sushi to oysters to soups learned how to identify and control hazards associated with fish and shellfish to keep the public safe and their businesses running smoothly. Completion of the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) classes are required by a 1997 federal Food & Drug Administration regulation.

Lori Pivarnik, coordinator of food safety outreach in the Food Safety Education Program at the University of Rhode Island, discusses safe seafood handling practices with students at a HACCP class on Sept. 13.

“Any seafood company has to have at least one HACCP-trained person,” said Nancy Balcom, associate director of Connecticut Sea Grant and co-teacher of the class with Lori Pivarnik, coordinator of food safety outreach and the food safety education program at the University of Rhode Island. While students in the recent class came from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York, previous classes have drawn from outside the Northeast.
After completing the nationally standardized course developed by the Seafood HACCP Alliance of seafood scientists, regulators and industry members, students receive a certificate of training completion from the Association of Food and Drug Officials. They then go back to their workplaces to write site-specific plans for potential seafood safety hazards for the products they handle, applying HACCP principles, Balcom said. She said HACCP plans are then implemented by each company to manage and minimize the risk of seafood-borne illnesses.
Training 75 to 100 seafood processors and regulators each year, Balcom said she and Pivarnik have trained more than 2,000 individuals in HACCP principles over the past 20 years. Sessions are offered alternately between Avery Point and URI in Narragansett. No exam is given to students at the end of the class, but they build experience developing plans for different seafood products as a group exercise to help them immediately apply what they learn once they return to their own businesses. That is in everyone’s best interest.
“The test comes when the FDA comes in and inspects them,” Balcom said.

For information about future HACCP classes, contact Balcom at: nancy.balcom@uconn.edu.

Nancy Balcom, associate director of Connecticut Sea Grant, talks to students in a HACCP class on Sept. 13.

Nancy Balcom, associate director of Connecticut Sea Grant, talks to students in a HACCP class on Sept. 13.

Research explores marsh migration process

As rising seas push coastal marshes inland, the yards and woodlands next door are changing.
But not much is known about how this happens. That’s why Shimon Anisfeld and colleagues at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies began trying to tease out some of the details of the process by looking at marsh migration at two state parks, Sherwood Island in Westport and Hammonassett Beach in Madison.
On Sept. 12, he presented findings thus far from his research, which is being funded by Connecticut Sea Grant, to the Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration & Stewardship Work Group at Connecticut College in New London. The group is part of the Long Island Sound Study, a partnership of Connecticut, New York and the Environmental Protection Agency.
At Sherwood Island, Anisfeld and his team compared migration patterns at marshes bounded by lawns verses those next to forests that were getting flooded by high tides more frequently in recent years. Since lawn areas tended to be flatter than the woodlands, determining how much of the change was due to differences in the slope was tricky, he said. The research did, however, find differences in the mix of marsh vegetation migrating inland into lawns versus woodlands, probably a result of soil and salinity differences.
In another phase of the work still underway, Anisfeld and his team are using marsh core samples and the presence of single-celled marine organisms called foraminifera to measure how far the marshes at Sherwood Island and Hammonassett have moved vertically and horizontally since 1963.
Overall, the research will help inform management practices at areas with tidal marshes, as land use officials seek the best ways to preserve these critical habitats in the face of sea level rise.
Two other presentations at the workshop dealt with other aspects of changing marsh habitats. Scott Graves of Southern Connecticut State University and Mark Paine, director of public works for West Haven, described restoration efforts at Cove River Marsh. Ron Rozsa, retired coastal ecologist for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, shared his recent research into the long-term effects of ditches dug into the marshes at Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in Stonington that took place in Colonial times and in the 1930s.
After the presentations, the group toured the Mamacoke Island marsh in Waterford, which is owned by Connecticut College.
To read more about Anisfeld’s work, visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.13398/full.

Special issue of journal highlights resilience symposium research

Research from a recent symposium supported by Connecticut Sea Grant, titled “Resilience and the Big Picture: Governing and Financing Innovations for Long Island Sound and Beyond,” has been published in a special issue of the Sea Grant Law and Policy Journal.
The six articles in the journal are based on the presentations and panels at the April 22, 2016, symposium at the University of Connecticut Law School in Hartford. They explore the challenges and opportunities of embedding resiliency principals into the planning, stewardship and economic viability of the Sound and other coastal areas.
Syma Ebbin, organizer of the symposium and research coordinator at Connecticut Sea Grant, wrote the introduction and co-wrote an article on emerging marine spatial planning efforts in the Sound with Nathaniel Trumbull, UConn geography professor. Ebbin is also a professor in the UConn Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics. Other articles discuss how to finance resilience, flood insurance reform and policies that encourage property owners to retreat from coastal areas.
The journal can be found at: http://nsglc.olemiss.edu/sglpj/vol8no1/sgjpj-v8.1.pdf

Sea Grant warns of dangerous rip currents in Long Island Sound

Connecticut Sea Grant warned residents on Sept. 6 that dangerous rip currents are expected in Long Island Sound through the coming weekend, posing hazards to swimmers, surfers and boaters.
The main risk for rip currents is in the eastern end of the Sound, and on Atlantic Ocean beaches on Long Island, according to Melanie Fewings, marine sciences professor at the University of Connecticut.
According to the National Weather Service office in Upton, N.Y., the rip currents are due to swells from Hurricane Irma building in the region. Both Connecticut Sea Grant and the National Weather Service are part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is monitoring Hurricane Irma as well as tropical storms Jose and Katia through its National Hurricane Center.
Rip currents are channelized streams of water flowing away from shore. Even the strongest swimmers can be pulled into rip currents and away from shore. They account for 80 percent of rescues by lifeguards at coastal beaches, according to NOAA. Anyone caught in a rip current should not try to swim against it, but swim along the shoreline until free of the current, then swim at an angle away from the current toward shore. For more information about rip current safety, visit: ripcurrents.noaa.gov.
Residents are urged to keep up to date on the track of Hurricane Irma after it moves on its expected path through Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands and into Florida in the coming days, as well as on Tropical Storm Jose. The storm is currently about 1,000 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, heading west-northwest and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane later today, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical Storm Katia is currently in the Gulf of Mexico and is not posing a threat to the East Coast.
Residents are also advised to review hurricane preparation information available from NOAA and to take any advance steps possible so that their homes and families can best respond to a future weather emergency.
For information, visit NOAA’s Weather Ready Nation website at: http://www.weather.gov/wrn/ and the Department of Homeland Security’s Ready.gov website at: https://www.ready.gov/.
Connecticut Sea Grant, a partnership of the state and NOAA, is located at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus.

Project creating chemical, physical profile of Long Island Sound

Marine sciences graduate student Yan Ji lowers a CTD profiler into the waters of Long Island Sound during an Aug. 24 research cruise.
Marine sciences graduate student Yan Jia lowers a CTD profiler into the waters of Long Island Sound during an Aug. 24 research cruise.

Groton - A major two-year research project to profile the water chemistry on Long Island Sound as it changes with seasons and tidal flows completed its first phase in the eastern Sound this summer.
Project leaders Penny Vlahos and Michael Whitney, both marine sciences professors at UConn Avery Point, in May 2016 began the series of research cruises to collect water samples from five locations in the eastern Sound across

Prof. Penny Vlahos fills a sample bottle with water from Long Island Sound.
Prof. Penny Vlahos fills a sample bottle with water from Long Island Sound.

different tidal cycles in the spring, summer and fall. The process will be repeated in the central and western Sound. The information will be used to create a complete profile that will inform efforts to improve water quality and establish a baseline for conditions in the Sound that can be used to monitor how it is being affected by climate change and other factors, Vlahos said. Their research is funded by Connecticut Sea Grant.
Samples collected for the project will be analysed to quantify the nitrogen, phosphorous and carbon levels and learn about pathways by which nutrients and carbon are transported across the estuary.

Measurements of the physical characteristics of the waterway through the tides are being taken in tandem with the water samples, so the two data sets can be paired.
"We're basically trying to figure out what goes in and out of Long Island Sound," Vlahos said. "These are the dynamics we don't yet understand."
A full-length article about the project will be published in the upcoming Fall/Winter issue of Wrack Lines.

A rosette holder for Niskin bottles is lowered into Long Island Sound to collect water samples.

Chris Mills, a UConn undergraduate student and crew member aboard the RV Lowell Weicker, lowers a rosette holder filled with Niskin bottles to collect water sampels from Long Island Sound while marine technician Dave Cohen looks on during an Aug. 24 research cruise.

Marine sciences students fill sample bottles with water from Long Island Sound collected during an Aug. 24 research cruise.

Allison Byrd, left, and Allie Staniec, both marine sciences graduate students, fill sample bottles with water from Long Island Sound during an Aug. 24 research cruise.

Long Island Sound restoration funds advance in federal budget plan, Sen. Murphy says

Greenwich – Sen. Chris Murphy delivered good news on Aug. 24 about prospects for federal funding for Long Island Sound programs including Connecticut Sea Grant to an audience of conservation group representatives, local and state government officials and the public.

Sen. Chirs Murphy speaks to audience in Greenwich on Aug. 24 about Long Island Sound funding.
Sen. Chris Murphy tells an audience in Greenwich about promising prospects for Long Island Sound funding.

While funding for cleanup and habitat restoration programs for the Sound and other waterways was eliminated in Pres. Trump’s budget plan, Congress’ current proposed version of fiscal 2018 federal budget includes $8 million for the Sound, Murphy said.  The fiscal 2017 budget funded $4 million worth of restoration programs in the estuary, which is shared by Connecticut and New York.

“The final appropriations bill doubled funding for Long Island Sound,” Murphy told an audience of about 50 people gathered at the Bruce Museum’s Seaside Center overlooking a public beach. “This will double the number of projects we can fund.”

Also in the proposed budget is $3 million in new funding for aquaculture research, said Murphy, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He noted that much of that will be spent at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s aquaculture lab in Milford.

“This will be used for research on how to restore shellfish beds,” he said, noting that shellfish farming has both economic and environmental benefits because shellfish filter nutrients and enhance water quality.

Funding for National Sea Grant programs, run as federal-state partnerships, was also eliminated in the Trump budget plan, but was restored to $65 million for base programs and $11.5 million for Sea Grant aquaculture. Connecticut Sea Grant is one of 33 programs in coastal and Great Lakes states.

“These were programs slated for big cuts that we were able to preserve,” Murphy said. He noted that while water quality has improved in the Sound in recent decades, continued investment is needed to continue progress.

While there is bipartisan disagreement on many federal environmental initiatives, Murphy said both parties agree that support for “backyard environmental protection” such as restoration of waterways should be maintained.

UConn Prof. Charles Yarish gives book about Long Island Sound to Sen. Murphy.

UConn Prof. Charles Yarish gives Sen. Murphy a copy of the 2014 book he co-authored, \"Long Island
Sound: Prospects for an Urban Sea.\" (photos by Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant)

4 sites in running for nomination to national estuarine reserve

One of three sites in Long Island Sound or a fourth on the lower Connecticut River will soon be chosen for nomination as a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR).

Kevin O'Brien shows maps of proposed NERR areas at meeting on Aug. 17, 2017, at UConn Avery Point.
Kevin O'Brien, environmental analyst at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, shows maps of proposed NERR sites in Long Island Sound during a meeting Aug. 17, 2017, at UConn Avery Point. (photo by Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant)

The latest step in a process that began earlier this year took place on Aug. 17, when about 20 experts from academia, state agencies and environmental groups came together at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus. The project is being led by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, in coordination with UConn and Connecticut Sea Grant.

“We want to submit a final nomination package to NOAA by the end of December or early January,” Kevin O’Brien, DEEP environmental analyst who led the meeting, told the group.

The Connecticut site chosen would join a national system of 29 reserves designated for research, monitoring, education and increased protection. Run as a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the states, NERR sites exist in all coastal states except Connecticut and Louisiana.  About 1.3 million acres are currently part of NERR sites in 20 coastal and two Great Lakes states.

During the meeting, the group reviewed the detailed scoring criteria and initial scores given on the assets the four sites: one each in the western, central and eastern Sound, and the Connecticut River from Haddam Neck to the mouth.

Over the next month, the group will complete scoring of the sites, assessing their environmental, research, stewardship, educational and management values, and write a draft nomination report by early fall for the chosen site.

A public informational meeting on the selected site and the importance of the NERR program to Connecticut will be scheduled for late October to early November. That will be followed by a public comment meeting in late November and an opportunity for the public to submit written comments.

The four sites under consideration are:

  • Western Long Island Sound Region from Darien to Milford, encompassing state and federal properties including the Norwalk Islands, Great Meadows, the Milford Point Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, plus Sherwood Island State Park and Wheeler Wildlife Area.
  • Central Long Island Sound Region from Madison to Westbrook, including Hammonasset Beach State Park/Natural Area Preserve, the Hammock River Wildlife Management Area and Duck Island Wildlife Area.
  • Eastern Long Island Sound Region from Waterford to Stonington, including Bluff Point State Park/Natural Area Preserve/Coastal Reserve, Haley Farm State Park and the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area.
  • Connecticut River Region from Old Saybrook and Old Lyme to Haddam Neck, encompassing the upper freshwater component including Haddam Neck Wildlife Area and Machimoodus State Park; and the lower brackish component including the Ferry Point Wildlife Area, Great Island Wildlife Area, Lord Cove Wildlife Area, Nott Island Wildlife Area and Ragged Rock Creek Wildlife Area.

For information, visit: www.ct.gov/DEEP/NERR, or the most recent issue of Sound Outlook: http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Sound-Outlook---June-July-2017.html?soid=1104335014923&aid=fdnOdhO1jjc; or contact Kevin O’Brien at: kevin.obrien@ct.gov.

Group discusses the next steps in nominating a NERR site in Long Island Sound during a meeting on Aug. 17, 2017, at UConn Avery Point.

Group discusses the next steps in nominating a NERR site in Long Island Sound during a meeting on Aug. 17, 2017, at UConn Avery Point. (photo by Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant)

Private landowners hold key to future of coastal marshes

Vulnerable marshes, vulnerable homes

photo of Fence Creek marsh in Madison, Conn.

Fence Creek in Madison, Conn., is one of many tidal marshes near neighborhoods vulnerable to sea level rise. (Photo by Chris Elphick.)

While popular with conservation groups, coastal easements that prevent development in order to protect marshland are not favored by property owners, according to a new study by the University of Connecticut and Virginia Tech. Since private landowners will be critical partners in efforts to save coastal marshes in the face of climate change and rising sea levels, identifying the best strategies will be essential to achieving success, the research shows. The study was funded by Connecticut Sea Grant, UConn, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation Environmental Fellowship.
The findings, based on the results of surveys conducted in 2015 of 1,002 owners of Connecticut coastal properties, suggest that relying on education about sea level rise and the ecosystem benefits of marshes alone will not protect land from changes brought about by storms and climate change. Landowners in the study harbor skeptical attitudes about granting easements, based on concerns that they will be offered a fair price in exchange for keeping land as open space where marshes can migrate as seas rise. They also worry that environmental organizations that obtain the easements “might not act fairly or transparently in their efforts to encourage tidal marsh migration,” the researchers write in an article published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of Aug. 7.
The study, conducted by Christopher Field and Chris Elphick of UConn and Ashley Dayer of Virginia Tech, emphasizes that strategies that assume marshes will migrate inland won’t work without the cooperation of private landowners. Whether they decide to leave room for marshes to move inland or instead build seawalls that harden shorelines means either saving tidal wetlands and their many ecological, economic and recreational benefits, or losing them altogether. In the study area alone – the Connecticut coast – there are an estimated 30,000 landowners in the zone projected to become tidal marsh by 2100, and millions of people globally live near tidal marshes. The survey was conducted following two major storms – Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – so the results are a valid measure of whether that experience influences attitudes about taking action to lessen future risks. While landowners whose properties flooded during the hurricane were 1.4 times more likely to say they may be willing to sell their vulnerable land outright, this result may overstate what people would actually do. For example, although the study did not investigate past landowner behavior, the researchers note that fewer than 100 properties in the study area were acquired during federal buyout programs implemented after the recent hurricanes, though many more were eligible.
If land protection agreements with nonprofits and government agencies aren’t the answer, what offers more promise for the future of marshes? Surveyed landowners responded favorably to the idea of restrictive covenants, even though they typically do not include financial incentives. Under restrictive covenants, an entire neighborhood agrees to forgo building seawalls and other shoreline armoring structures. These armoring strategies can be damaging in the long run, because they can divert erosion and flooding to adjoining properties and natural habitats. Coastal landowners also liked the notion of future interest agreements. Under these programs, private landowners agree to accept fair market value of their property at the time of signing if future flooding reduces the value by more than half. That future flooding would allow dry upland to turn into coastal marsh.
The article, “Landowner behavior can determine the success of conservation strategies for ecosystem migration under sea-level rise,” offers broad implications for how to best design programs to mitigate other climate change effects. Field, a post-doctoral fellow in the UConn Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was lead author of the study. Elphick is an associate professor of conservation biology in UConn EEB and the Center of Biological Risk, and Dayer is assistant professor of human dimensions at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.
The primary contact for the researchers is: Christopher Field: Christopher.field@uconn.edu.
Prof. Chris Elphick can be reached at: chris.elphick@uconn.edu (best option); cell: (860) 985-4347
Prof. Dayer can be reached through the Virginia Tech communications office: Heidi Ketler, Interim Director of Communications, College of Natural Resources and Environment, (540) 231-6157.
For copy of the article, send a request to: pnasnews@nas.edu.

Connecticut’s ocean economy grew in 2014, report shows

Connecticut’s ocean economy grew by nearly 1 percent during 2014, with the tourism and recreation sector employing the most workers, and the ship and boat building sector contributing the highest value in terms of wages, according to a new federal report.
The report, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management, shows employment growth nationally in the ocean economy of 2.5 percent from 2013 to 2014 and growth in goods and services of 15.6 percent from 2007 to 2014. The ocean economy includes living resources, marine construction, marine transportation, offshore mineral extraction, ship and boat building and tourism and recreation.
State-specific information in the report shows Connecticut’s ocean economy employed about 51,000 people, generating $2 billion in wages and $4.2 billion in gross domestic product. That’s just over 3 percent of the state’s total employment, about 2 percent of its wages and 1.7 percent of its GDP, according to the report.
Most of the ocean economy workforce was based in Fairfield County, in tourism and recreation-related businesses, according to the report. New London County, where submarine builder Electric Boat is located, supplied the largest proportion of the ocean economy GDP. The ship and boat building sector statewide contributed $1.4 billion of Connecticut’s total gross domestic products, the report found.
The report’s findings highlight the importance of the ocean economy to Connecticut. Although it is the nation’s third smallest state in land area, and 29th in population, it ranks 15th in ocean economy employment and 14th in GDP among the 30 coastal states.
More information can be found on the Economics: National Ocean Watch data page.

New guide to decapod larvae available

“Keys to the Larvae of Common Decapod Crustaceans in Long Island Sound,” a 48-page guide to the early life stages of lobsters, crabs and shrimp, was published this spring by Connecticut Sea Grant and Project Oceanology. Written by Howard “Mickey” Weiss, Project O founder and senior scientist, it includes black-and-white drawings identifying the main parts of the anatomies of various decapods, as well as color photos of more than a dozen species. For a free download of 21 MB copy, go to: Weiss Decapod Crustacean larvae book_Web
To purchase a print copy for $8 plus shipping, contact Andrea Kelly at: andrea.kelly@uconn.edu. Please reference the title and publication number CTSC-17-09.