Alan Sterling first noticed his oysters disappearing in 2004. The oysterman – a former Staples student working here since 1964 — leases 150 acres of fertile grounds, between Compo Beach and Cockenoe Island, from the state.
He had a particularly concentrated bottom set that year. Suddenly nothing was left. Millions of oysters were gone, just like that.
“I may have mentioned it to the Shellfish Commission. Or maybe I just let it go,” Alan recalls. “The problem is, you need absolute proof – video or still shots – and they have to be triangulated. I can’t be in three places at once. I didn’t always have a boat to keep an eye on it.”
Alan says that in the past three years he has lost $3 million worth of oysters. And that’s a conservative estimate.
The poachers are watching Alan. By the time he leaves shore, they leave his grounds. Though he knows who they are, catching them in the act is nearly impossible.
“When they see me coming they move off the reef, back to Norwalk,” he says. “I don’t have a boat fast enough to catch them. When they want something, they just take it.”
Finally, he got the Department of Environmental Protection involved. It hasn’t done much good.
Alan is now working with an attorney, hoping for a settlement or reparations. Meanwhile, his oysters continue to vanish.