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Steven Senne, File, Associated Press
FILE - In this April 22, 2011 file photo, fishermen Robert Short, left, and James Swint, both of New Haven, Conn., fish from a pier in the Port of New Haven in front of cargo vessels docked at the port. Officials announced Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011, the state is spending nearly $500,000 to hire a consulting group to develop a strategy to boost the economic potential of the ports in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London.

HARTFORD, Conn. — The state is spending nearly $500,000 to develop a strategy to boost the economic potential of Connecticut's ports.

Officials announced Wednesday that the state has hired a Long Beach, Calif.-based consulting group to complete a study of state ports in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London.

The analysis by the firm, Moffatt & Nichol, will inventory port facilities, describe transportation access to the ports and list markets or regions that Connecticut ports can serve. The study, which is to be completed before June 30, also will develop a marketing plan and identify areas where ports can be improved to enhance their competitiveness.

Lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy enacted legislation earlier this year requiring the state to develop a strategy for economic development of the ports.

Malloy said the state's maritime industry is an important part of Connecticut's economy.

"Unfortunately, without a comprehensive strategy in place, we can't know where the best chances for us to promote economic development exist," he said in a statement announcing the hiring of the consulting group.

Moffatt & Nichol did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Chuck Beck, transportation maritime manager at the state Department of Transportation, said the study will focus on where to tap potential markets for Connecticut's three Long Island Sound ports. The major difference between this study and others is marketing, he said.

"The lacking thing was to what end. The goal is to answer the 'to what end' question," Beck said.

A recent analysis by the Connecticut Maritime Coalition says the state's maritime industries and related economic activity account for more than $5 billion in business and more than 30,000 jobs in the state. But the recession and the weak recovery that has followed are hurting the industry. And sediment clogging the harbors is driving away bigger ships that carry larger and more lucrative cargo, industry officials say.

At the New London port, traffic measured in shipping tons has fallen from about 1.4 million in 2006 to a little more than 1 million in 2009, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. In Bridgeport, the decline has been from 5.4 million tons to about 4.6 million in the same period. In New Haven, traffic has dropped from 10.9 million tons to 10.1 million.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in various stages of projects to dredge the Bridgeport and New Haven harbors of sediment that flows in from area rivers, streams and channels.

Beck said a major upgrade of the Panama Canal, expected to be completed by 2014, has spurred large coastal ports in New York, Boston and elsewhere to deepen their harbors or seek money for upgrade projects. Connecticut is looking to establish stronger ties with markets that need to unload products at ports smaller than those along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and Gulf of Mexico, he said.