Marine Fisheries Council issues heat up
March is a busy time for the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council (RIMFC), which makes commercial and recreational fishing regulation recommendations to the Department of Environmental Management (DEM).
Two important upcoming council meetings include a March 5 meeting to address regulations on a variety of species such as striped bass, tautog, summer flounder, bluefish, scup, black sea bass and others. And, on March 14, the council will meet to address an aquaculture lease on Potter Pond in South Kingstown, requested by Perry Sousa, owner of the Matunuck Oyster Bar restaurant (at www.rhodyoyster.com). The annual report on the saltwater fishing license program will also be reviewed at the March 14 meeting.
The council is comprised of three recreational and three commercial fishing representatives as well as two scientists and is chaired by Robert Ballou, assistant to DEM Directory Janet Coit.
Often times, recreational harvest limits (RHL) and commercial catch limits are set by the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) that regulates migratory species coastwide. This means states often have to wait until the ASMFC sets coastwide allowable catch limits (ACL) before they develop specific regulations for their states. Such is the case with the controversial black sea bass regulations this year for Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
To simply things, black sea bass (BSB) have experienced a biomass shift from southern states to northern states due to climate change and warming water. Models that establish catch limits have not caught up with this shift, so in the north (in such states as Rhode Island and Massachusetts) there are an abundance of fish with lower quotas and in more southern regions (where there are fewer fish) the quotas are too high for the amount of biomass in these regions.
Consequently states like Rhode Island often overfish their recreational harvest limit because there are so many fish into the water to catch. Overall it is a bad situation that needs to be corrected by building climate change into our allowable catch models much faster than we do presently, as climate change and warming water is accelerating at a greater pace than ever before (this was a major recommendation coming out of the Southern New England Recreational Fishing Symposium held last month).
So with an unrealistic allowable catch limit, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and other northeast states have to learn to live with an abundance of these fish and low quotas. Additionally, harvest limits within the recreational sector need to consider shore fishermen and Narragansett Bay fishermen who advocate for an early season start and keeping the fish size at 15”; and fishermen and charter captains that fish offshore who would be willing to accept a larger fish size (16”) and have the season start later to better accommodate their needs.
Last year, charter captains and recreational anglers that fish in Narragansett Bay preferred an earlier May 25 start to the season so they could catch black sea bass in late May and June when the fish are available in the bay. The water warms in the bay in July and August and fishing deteriorates.
However, many charter captains and fishermen that keep their vessels in Point Judith and south county fish off the coastal shore and around Block Island, and they want to preserve the quota for later in the season. They often catch black sea bass when tautog fishing in the fall or they target them prior to the tautog season.
So the Council will have to come to some type of magical compromise to satisfy the varied needs of charter captains, private anglers, bay, shore and offshore fishermen.
The second major issue facing the council is a Potter Pond aquaculture lease request. The owner of the Matunuck Oyster Bar, Perry Raso, would like to expand his oyster farm with a new lease.
State officials in Rhode Island have often pointed to the Matunuck Oyster Bar and the aquaculture farm that supports its sea to table fare as a big success. In 2016 the restaurant was selected by Time Out editors as one of “The 21 best seafood restaurants in America.”
However, the new lease area requested has become controversial, with hundreds of residents, fin fishermen and recreational shell fishermen objecting to the lease because they say it is in direct conflict with wild fish harvest. The Coastal Resources Management Council regulates aquaculture in Rhode Island, however, the RIMFC weights in on leases as to whether or not they are in conflict with wild fish harvest. So this wild fish harvest conflict issue will be the focus of the Council meeting decision on in this area on March 14.
Both the March 5 and March 12 RIMFC meetings will be held at the URI Bay Campus, Corless Auditorium, Narragansett at 6 p.m. Visit www.dem.ri.gov for agendas and information.
New online access for fishing & hunting licenses
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) will launch a new, fully online fishing and hunting license system that expands upon current web-based services on Thursday, March 1.
The system will replace paper-based license issuances and accounting methods and builds upon the current offering of online fishing licenses to include hunting licenses, permits, tags, and stamps. Licenses will still be available for purchase at DEM’s Office of Boating Registration & Licenses in Providence and participating sales agent locations across the state.
On March 1, residents and non-resident customers will be able to purchase freshwater fishing, recreational saltwater fishing, hunting, and combination freshwater fishing and hunting licenses, as well as trout stamps and spring turkey permits. Starting in April, hunters will be able to report their spring turkey harvest online. In August, hunters will be able to purchase hunting permits for deer, migratory bird, and small game and will be able to report all harvests online.
More information about the new licensing system is available at www.dem.ri.gov/huntfish.
Where’s the bite?
Freshwater. Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence said, “We are now in the worm business, growing European night crawlers and meal worms for freshwater fishing and red wiggler worms (for composting). The advantage is when our customers buy them they will not have sat in a refrigerator, in peat or sawdust for days, but rather we will cup worms daily so the customer gets fresh active worms.” Henault said the trout bite has been good for his customers, especially in those ponds that have been stocked, and the bass bite is just starting to pick up. John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, Riverside said, “Customers have been catching some small bass at Stump Pond, Smithfield and the trout bite has been pretty good at Lincoln Woods. Early this winter the ice fishing was great, in fact the ice made it my best winter season in ten years.”
Saltwater fishing for hold-over striped bass (the fish that stay in warm upper river waters rather than migrating south) has been slow. Henault said, “If I were to fish for hold-over stripers I’d try the northwest side of the Point Street Bridge as the tide is low and incoming. The mud flat there heats up and bass feed on the flat.” Cod fishing has been slow with bad weather; however, even when the weather has been good the bite was hit or miss last week.
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shellfishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.noflukefishing.com.