Climate change and global warming continues to change the fishing environment around the world and right here in Rhode Island. Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, which is an increase in the average temperature of earth’s near-surface air and oceans. Global warming has been tracked since the mid-20th century and is projected to continue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that most of the observed temperature increases since the middle of the 20th century were caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases resulting from human activity such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation.
Climate change has a direct impact on Narragansett Bay and nearby coastal waters and fishing, and can have a positive, negative or neutral effect on species with different tolerances. URI Bay temperature studies confirm that Narragansett Bay has warmed approximately two degrees Fahrenheit, depending on time of year in past 45 years, and there are signs of a rising ocean in Rhode Island with beach erosion occurring along our coastal shore.
How are fish being impacted?
Last week Dr. Jonathan Hare, director of the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Narragansett Laboratory, spoke about climate change and marine fisheries at a Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) meeting. Dr. Hare spoke about ocean water warming along the northeast continental shelf, saying “We have had peaks and valleys over the years with a decade of warming water (like in the 1940’s and 50’s), and then decades when the water was on the cool side. However, long term over the course of time (since 1854), there is no doubt the water is warming.”
Dr. Hare shared a time lapse illustration that showed how yellow-tail flounder and summer flounder (fluke) are actually migrating north toward Rhode Island and other northern coastal states as the water warms. This time lapse illustration showed fish leaving waters to the south and moving northward. So in addition to much anecdotal information about cold water fish moving out of our area and warm water fish moving into the area, Dr. Hare’s work provides proof of warming water and species movement in and out of our region.
Another study by NOAA related that rising water temperatures are also helping to drive many of New England’s fish populations farther from shore and into deeper water.
In this study NOAA biologists analyzed water temperature trends from North Carolina to the Canadian border off Maine from 1968 to 2007. They then looked at fish survey data collected each spring and assessed where the fish were caught and how abundant they were.
Some fish species experienced a lot of movement while other species exhibited little movement to the north, but rather they moved to deeper waters where temperatures are lower.
Fishermen in Rhode Island and Massachusetts used to catch most of their haddock, flounder, and cod in waters close to shore. Nowadays, fishermen often have to travel as far 100 miles offshore to find those same fish.
At the same time, we are catching more fish here that are traditionally found in warmer southern waters like Atlantic croaker which is caught off Virginia and North Carolina, or Cobia (a warm water fish) which migrate along the Atlantic coast on a seasonal basis. In spring, they move from southern Florida, to the Carolinas as water temperatures rise. However, they are being caught more often in our waters in the past couple of years.
This year Mason Sherman, a URI engineering student from North Kingstown, RI, caught a 32 pound, 46 inch cobia when he was bottom fishing for fluke (summer flounder) just south of the Jamestown Bridge. Greg Vespe of Tiverton landed a 17 pound cobia fishing north of the Newport Bridge this summer when fishing with Atlantic Menhaden chunks for striped bass.
A technical report prepared for a 2013 National Climate Assessment for NOAA relates that the nation’s ecosystems and marine resources are being affected by a changing climate. The report, titled “Oceans and Marine Resources in a changing Climate”, produced by sixty-three experts from NOAA and other federal, academic and non-governmental organizations, concluded that marine ecosystems will likely continue to be affected, in most cases negatively, by anthropogenic-driven climate change and rising levels of atmospheric CO2.
As fishermen, we know the water is warming and I believe we need to do everything we can to curb global warming.
Live bait yields big bass
Capt. Blaine Anderson is a striped bass hunter. He has put many of his clients onto 50 pound trophy bass over the years. Last year, he landed a huge 57.5” striped bass just as he was checking on conditions for one of his early season charters in May. The 74.75 pound bass (with a 32.25″ girth) was caught while using live bait… a scup. Capt. Anderson said, “It didn’t take long for my scup to get nervous. A few seconds of frantic dancing was quickly followed by a solid THUMP! The fish didn’t scream line off the open spool like some do, she just slowly and steadily swam away… I lightly thumbed the spool and let the fish take the line for a 5 count and pushed the lever drag forward, fish on!
“I felt a slight pop as the line pulled free of whatever it had been hung on and suddenly, the line changed direction and went screaming past me. I jumped off the bow platform and followed the fish to the back of the boat. I told Bob that this was a real big bass and that we may want to break out the video camera… After changing direction, the fish again made another run of almost 100 yards. This time, as most big fish do, she headed towards the surface. I was fairly confident that this was now a caught fish.”
Capt. Anderson’s monster striper was caught with live bait just like the world record striped bass (an 81-pounder caught by Greg Myerson from Connecticut) that was caught on a live eel. Most large fish caught on the Southwest Ledge of Block Island are often caught with live bait as well.
With all these big fish being caught on live bait, The Aquidneck Island Striper Team decided to hold a seminar titled “Fishing with Live Bait” at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 19 at the VFW Post, 500 Anthony Road, Portsmouth. None other than Capt. Blaine Anderson of Anderson Guide Service will be the guest speaker. Learn how and when to use live bait for the most effective results. Capt. Anderson fishes the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound for stripers, bluefish, fluke, blackfish, false albacore and bonito. Members admitted free, guests are asked for a $5 donation. Contact Richard Laurie at email@example.com for information.
Environmental bond issues deserves our support
Last week an environmental bond referendum came before the Rhode Island House Finance Committee and this week it was scheduled to go before the Senate Finance Committee. The bond issue addresses clean water, open spaces and healthy communities. Last week DEM director Janet Coit and representatives from the Audubon Society, the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association, Save the Bay and a host of other conservation and water quality advocates testified on behalf of the bond referendum. Of particular importance to fishermen are funds for marine infrastructure, including a fishing pier at the new Rocky Point State Park. I testified on behalf of the bond issue and believe it deserves the consideration and support of fishermen.
Where’s the bite
Fresh water ice fishing is taking place on select ponds and lakes that are frozen to safe standards. Visit www.dem.ri.gov for ice safety standards and call your local police department to make sure ice is safe before going out on it.
Cod fishing slowed this week but is expected to pick up once weather conditions improve. Reservations are important so captains can plan their trips. Three boats sailing include the Frances Fleet at www.francesfleet.com, the Seven B’s at www.sevenbs.com, and the Island Current at www.islandcurrent.com.
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. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Monti at firstname.lastname@example.org.