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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Assembly fishes out new state appetizer: Rhode Island-style calamari

Donna Walsh, Teresa Tanzi lead co-sponsors

STATE HOUSE – Pending the governor’s ink, squid will have a new place in the hierarchy of the state’s official emblems.

The General Assembly passed legislation (2014-S 2398A, 2014-H 7446A) tonight deeming Rhode Island-style calamari – fresh breaded squid rings served with pickled hot peppers – as the state’s official appetizer. 

Taking into account that more pounds of squid are brought to stores in Rhode Island than any other seafood and that Rhode Island has some of the finest restaurants in the country, lawmakers decided adding calamari to the list of the state’s recognized assets would help draw more attention to its reputation for fresh seafood and divine cuisine.

 “The most successful businesses know how to strategically market themselves,” said Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), lead sponsor of the House bill.  “Rhode Island, like a business, needs to be able to do that as well. Calamari will do for our state what lobster does for Maine and what cod does for Massachusetts. A specialty dish like this will only add to our allure and reputation as the great ‘Ocean State.’ I am thrilled that we are giving people in our fishing, hospitality and tourism industries the tools to effectively build our brand.”

Squid landings in Rhode Island account for about 50 percent of all squid taken along the eastern seaboard. The prominence of Rhode Island’s squid fishing industry – bringing in about 23.5 million pounds per year – and its importance to the state’s economy, with annual landings worth about $18.5 million per year, are worth noting and recognizing, said Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), primary sponsor of the matching Senate bill. 
“It is the juxtaposition of two things – that squid is the state’s most valuable commercial fishery and that a cuisine distinctive to Rhode Island is served and enjoyed around the country – that make this special to our state, something to call our own,” said Senator Sosnowski. “As a South County legislator and chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, I recognize how fortunate our state is because of the fishing industry and believe we cannot do enough to promote that important aspect of our state’s economy.”
Squid may be just one of more than 300 cephalopods inhabiting the planet’s seas and oceans, but the fact that Rhode Island has its own nationally-recognized style of preparing calamari was a solid indication that these ocean-dwelling creatures would receive this prized designation. 

Calamari joins a wide range of items that have already received Rhode Island’s official seal of approval, including coffee milk (official state drink), the Rhode Island greening apple (official state fruit), quahog (official state shellfish), striped bass (official state fish), the Rhode Island red (official bird) and, though not edible, Bowenite (official mineral), Cumberlandite (official rock) and Red maple (official tree).

Representatives Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), Donna M. Walsh (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly), Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) and Gregory J. Costantino (D-Dist. 44, Lincoln, Johnston, Smithfield) cosponsor the House bill. 

Senate cosponsors include Senators James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, North Kingstown, Narragansett), Dawson T. Hodgson (R-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), and William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick).