Warm water fish: an ominous sign of a warming bay
“There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere. Sea level is rising. Arctic Sea ice is melting years faster than projected.”
This quote is not from a liberal environmentalist but rather from four E.P.A. administrators that served under Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Bush, in an opinion letter published in the August 1, 2013 issue of the New York Times. The letter goes on to urge support for initiatives including reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the nation’s power plants and spurring increased investment in clean energy technology. The dialogue on global warming has changed from a bipartisan issue on whether or not it is occurring to what should be done about it as a nation, (and, I might add, as fishermen.)
Local evidence of climate change includes Narragansett Bay and near coastal water temperatures heating up for nearly forty years. How warm? Our waters 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) was 39.1 F. This temperature is far from the warmer water temperatures recorded in February, 2012: Conimicut Point, 45 F; Newport, 42 F; and Block Island, 46 F. URI bay temperature studies confirm the bay has warmed 2 to 3 degrees, depending on time of year, in the past 45 years.
What about the fish? What seems to be happening is that the cold water fish (like cod) are moving out of the area, away from coastal shores and out into deeper waters. And for the past few years we have had warm water fish being sighted or caught in the area, including dolphin sightings in Narragansett Bay in the last two years, bluefin tuna at the mouth of the bay in January and cobia, caught in the bay this summer.
Cobia migrate along the Atlantic coast on a seasonal basis. In spring, they move from southern Florida, to the Carolinas as water temperatures rise. That’s right, I said the Carolinas… not Rhode Island. Yet last week Mason Sherman of North Kingstown caught a 32 pound, 46 inch cobia just south of the Jamestown Bridge. And last month Greg Vespe of Tiverton landed a 17 pound cobia fishing north of the Newport Bridge. Bait shop owners have reported an additional three to four cobia caught in the bay this year.
As fishermen, we know the water is warming and we need to do everything we can to curb climate change. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to catch a cobia. But it would be nice if some fish were left for my great-grandchildren….and I don’t mean fried fish.
Where’s the bite
Striped bass fishing at Block Island is still good with smaller fish being taken at the North Rip and larger fish on the South West Ledge. Umbrella rigs still seem to be the bait of choice during the day. Last week striped bass were between Gould Island and the Newport Bridge and all along southern coastal shores, this week that action slowed down a bit.
Fluke fishing remained good but spotty this week with fish being taken (for the first time in years) in the upper Bay. Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence, said, “Customers are catching fluke at Fields Point and in other places in the upper Bay… in eight to fourteen feet of water if you can believe that. The fluke are feeding on skipjacks (baby blue fish) in coves and along shoreline areas.” The fluke bite off Newport and Jamestown remained good but spotty with fish being taken under the Newport and Jamestown bridges, at Austin Hollow, Dutch Island, Hull and Mackerel Coves. Some days anglers have found fluke in numbers off Newport beyond Seal Ledge and Brenton Reef.
Scup fishing remains strong throughout the Bay at the usual places, including Colt State Park, Bristol, the bridges, Providence Point, and Ohio Ledge. Blue crabs have been plentiful in coves and estuaries. Skipjacks (baby blue fish) have invaded coves, ponds and inlets, and anglers have been catching them in volume.
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing on Narragansett Bay 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. Visit Captain Dave’s No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com; his blog at www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com or e-mail him at [email protected].