For Rep. Himes, oyster harvesting offers escape from ‘craziness of Washington’

After 15 years in Congress, Rep. Jim Himes is a fixture on Capitol Hill. But he’s also an expert at harvesting oysters.
On Tuesday, the Democratic congressman took News 12 Connecticut on a tour of a shoreline that’s rapidly changing.
When we arrive at Tod’s Point in Greenwich, it’s a chilly 35 degrees. A terrible day for a swim, but perfect for collecting oysters.
“Some of them are loose and lie around,” Himes said as he pried an oyster loose. “And others of them are affixed to rocks.”
Himes carries around a measuring tool – oysters must be longer than 3 inches – and a bucket to collect them. He’s limited to collecting a dozen oysters at a time.
It’s not easy. Just getting to the shellfish beds is a maze of rocks and sinking sands, but Himes navigates this jagged shoreline like the rocky halls of Congress.
“Gathering clams and oysters and stuff – there’s something very primal about that. You know, like, ‘I’m bringing protein home to my family,’” he said. “The whole experience is just a great way to shake off some of the craziness of Washington.”
In addition to oyster harvesting, Himes is also a home brewer and a beekeeper.
Connecticut’s oyster population was nearly decimated by MSX disease two decades ago. And while it has improved significantly, now there are new threats to the state’s $30 million per year shellfish industry.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, higher temperatures are already introducing dangerous new bacteria. Climate change could also make Long Island Sound waters saltier and more acidic, leading to more parasites.
In August, Connecticut reported three cases of a rare, but serious, in shellfish. The next month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that oysters harvested near Groton could be contaminated by sewage. Himes said he’s worried about efforts to roll back Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
“We shouldn't live in garbage. We shouldn’t swim in chemicals,” he said. “There’s always a cost associated with trying to preserve the environment, because it’s just so cheap to damage it.”