A lot has gone on this year that has and will continue to impact our bays and ocean waters and the health of our fishery. Here are four major issues that I thought about a lot this year.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse testified to the damaging effects of Sandy along coastal shores, relating that it’s now “the new normal.” Coastal areas will continue to flood and we have to recognize this as we plan to rebuild. So it’s no longer an issue about global warming being real, but rather how to prepare for it and prevent it from getting worse.
Narragansett Bay and near coastal water temperatures have been heating up for nearly 40 years. How warm you ask? Well, it used to be very cold. The crew of the Brenton Reef lightship measured water temperature at the mouth of Narragansett Bay every day from July 1878 through January 1942. In the coldest winter recorded (1917-18), the water temperature from December through February was 33.2 F. The average for the whole period of their record (64 years) is much warmer at 39.1 (Nixon, Granger and Buckley, “The Warming of Narragansett Bay,” 2003). However, even this temperature of 39.1 is far from the warmer water temperatures recorded Feb. 12, 2012: Conimicut Point, 45; Newport, 42; and Block Island, 46.
Wind power off shores
Obstacle after obstacle have been put in front of scientists, ocean spatial planners (like zoning in your town accept in the ocean) and wind energy developers. Two companies, Deepwater Wind (in Rhode Island) and Cape Wind (in Massachusetts) have been working to place wind farms in our oceans. They made great progress in 2012 thanks to helpful federal policy and local government officials taking the bull by the horns and pushing this initiative forward.
Developers are developing wind farms responsibly. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and agencies like the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, which has developed a model for spatial planning used by others throughout the country, are working with developers of wind farms to locate and mitigate the impact of wind farms on the environment and fisheries.
It looks like the five-turbine wind farm off Block Island will start construction in 2014. It will generate over 125,000 megawatt hours annually, supplying the majority of Block Island’s electricity needs. Excess power will be exported to the mainland via the bi-directional Block Island Transmission System. Learnings from this project will be applied to the 200-plus-turbine farm planned for the Cox’s Ledge area off Rhode Island. We have a lot of work to do to make sure these wind farms and others are developed responsibly, but we’re making great progress and we are on the right path.
Sector management/catch shares
Last month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled against the cities of New Bedford and Gloucester, Mass. and industry plaintiffs in their challenge to Amendment 16, the framework for the federal government’s fisheries catch-share system. The ruling supports the catch-share fisheries management approach engaged by fish managers in New England.
This was the third time the courts ruled in favor of catch shares. Government officials, fish regulators and mangers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts need to stay the course and not be distracted by vocal minorities in the fishing community that provide very little in the way of positive (proven) solutions to fishing challenges.
Another example of a successful sector management program is the R.I. Fluke Sector Pilot, which ran for three years. It was put on hold this year not because it failed but because, many claim, local political leaders and regulators believed it was the politically expedient thing to do. It’s wrong to play politics with fish as Massachusetts leaders did with ground fish and as we are doing with the R.I. Fluke Sector Pilot.
Atlantic menhaden catch limit
On Dec. 14 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted on Draft Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic menhaden which outlined a number of new regulations on the species. This was a major vote and the first time in that such restrictions have been put on the harvesting of this important fish.
“The ASMFC listened to the science and the public in taking a historic step to end overfishing of Atlantic menhaden and to begin to rebuild the population of this important little fish,” said Peter Baker of the PEW Environment Group.
Where’s the bite?
Cod fishing is good. Angler Frank Gionfrido recently fished for cod on the Lady Kayand said, “In no time at all we arrived on the fishing grounds south of Block Island. We caught cod non-stop for the next three hours with an occasional sea bass (all released) and dogfish. Daphine was high hooked with a 21-pounder followed by Capt. Steve with a 14-pounder, and my biggest was 11. All tallied we kept 29 cod (and) released four shorts.”
Francis Fleet and Seven B’s party boats have not been able to get out due to high winds and rough seas. Visit them at www.francesfleet.com and www.sevenbs.com for information, schedules and reports.
Capt. Dave Monti has been fishing and shellfishing on Narragansett Bay for more than 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. Your fishing photos in jpeg form, stories, comments and questions are welcome. Visit Capt. Dave’s No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com or e-mail him at [email protected]