Four advisory panels including summer flounder (fluke), tautog, Atlantic Menhaden and scup/black sea bass of the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council (RIMFC) met last week. The results of the meeting give us some indication of what recreational fishing regulations will likely be for 2014. Here are some highlights:
Summer flounder (fluke) has undergone a new regional management approach this year combining Rhode Island and Massachusetts into one region. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) engaged this regional approach that in essence grants more fish at smaller minimum sizes to states like New York that have historically overfished, but related that they need more fish and lower minimum sizes to even things out among coastal states. However, observers believe that this new regional plan in not an appropriate strategy, particularly with the fish stock of summer flounder on the decline. Many fear that the new regional plan will lead to overfishing in 2014.
The summer flounder advisory panel voted to recommend to the RIMFC and DEM staff to advocate for status quo for recreational fishing, keeping the regulations the same as last year, an 18” minimum size, with a bag limit of 8 fish/angler/day. This recommendation was approved unanimously, even though our regional partner Massachusetts was at 16” last year and will likely want to stay close to that size because they did not overfish last year.
Other summer flounder AP highlights included the discussion and approval of a summer flounder charter fishing pilot seeking approval for 2014. The summer flounder AP approved the proposal with no dissenting votes and one abstention. The program is an example of cooperative research between fishermen and fish managers and employs a new strategy for the management. In 2013 the cooperative reduced discards from 78.1 percent to 42.8 percent and reduced discard morality by 45 percent.
The tautog stock regionally was overfished in 2013, though it was not overfished in 2011. A new assessment is underway with alternative models being tested so the AP voted for status quo which was the Division of Fish & Wildlife’s recommendation. This is a minimum size of 16” with a split season: three fish April 15 to May 31; closed season June 1 to July 3; three fish August 1 to October 19; and six fish from October 20 to December 15. A vessel maximum of ten fish is in place for all periods, but does not apply to party and charter sector vessels.
Scup are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. In fact, Rhode Island underfished their quota last year. Regulations recommended by the AP were status quo: 10” minimum size with a 30 fish limit from May 1 to December 31. Charter boat sector has an enhanced period between September 1 and October 31 at 45 fish. The Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association recommended adding to the Special Area Provisions for shore anglers where the minimum size is 9” rather than 10”.
Black sea bass recommendations from the Rhode Island Division of Fish & Wildlife will be an option derived collaboratively with the Northern Region partners, likely status quo for 2014. Recreational recommendations will likely be a 13” minimum size, however, some restriction is necessary this year. Options considered by the AP include starting the fishery on July 1 rather than June 15 and run it until August 31 at a three fish maximum like last year. The fall season would start September 1 and run through December 31 and, like last year, would be a seven fish/angler/day maximum.
The big news at the Atlantic Menhaden AP meeting was a comprehensive proposal developed by Save the Bay to close the Atlantic Menhaden fishery in all Rhode Island waters to the commercial purse seine fishery. In a proposal letter to the Atlantic Menhaden Advisory Panel, Tom Kutcher, Narragansett Baykeeper for Save the Bay, said, “We urge you to recommend that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management ban the commercial purse seine fishery for menhaden in Rhode Island state waters, and recommend to the RIMFC and the Director of DEM that these changes are implemented before the 2014 season.” The AP panel voted status quo, which meant they did not approve the ban on purse seine fishing in state waters. Panel members expressed their satisfaction with the Narragansett Bay management area plan which features regular airplane and helicopter monitoring. AP panel members said the program also includes restrictions on industry that have been effective in striking a balance between user groups for the past three years, including closing purse seine fishing north of Conimicut Point up the Providence River as well as in western Greenwich Bay.
Public hearing March 25
A public hearing regarding proposed amendments to RI Marine Fisheries regulations is scheduled for 6 p.m.; Tuesday, March 25; at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, Corless Auditorium, South Ferry Road, Narragansett. Twenty-one agenda items in total will be considered including recreational summer flounder, winter flounder, tautog, scup, black sea bass and striped bass regulation amendments. Commercial tautog, striped bass, striped bass floating fish traps and Atlantic Menhaden amendments will be addressed as well as a variety of other issues pertaining to artificial reefs, shell fish closure regulations, etc. Visit www.dem.ri.gov for public hearing agendas and details.
Where’s the bite
Tom Pelto of Tiverton reports a good striped bass bite around Hemenway’s Restaurant in Providence. Tom said, “With excellent weather this past weekend I tried my luck at the Providence River for some holdovers. It took a couple hours to really locate them but I was able to find a small school of bass.” I asked Tom about the lure and bite. “The bite was finicky, sometimes the bass cooperate and sometimes they have lockjaw. Even though I wasn’t getting bites I’d have scales on my hook because the bass were so thick my lure was bumping into them. The lure was a 3” gulp soft plastic minnow in glow color put onto a small lead head.”
Larry Norin, RISAA Angler of the Year, fished last Thursday on the Island Currant out of Snug Harbor Marina in South Kingstown. Larry said, “We were 30+ miles from Point Judith fishing in 100-150 feet of water. The furthest spot was the only one that produced…Fish immediately started flying over the rails, guys were yelling and cheering…I ended up with a bag of fillets well over 10 lbs. Good eating but not the 10+ pounders that I was looking for.” Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “(last) Monday was the best outing of the week with hi hook boxing nine keepers and everyone on board bagging at least a couple…. Both bait and jigs were effective this past week. We are sailing daily at 5 am weather permitting, please call the office or book online at www.francesfleet.com.”