Op-Ed: We need climate-ready fisheries now

By Greg Vespe
Posted 11/21/22

In Rhode Island, fisheries play a huge role in our economy and our way of life, but lately, we are seeing some concerning trends in our local fisheries. Anglers are experiencing climate impacts on …

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Op-Ed: We need climate-ready fisheries now

Posted

In Rhode Island, fisheries play a huge role in our economy and our way of life, but lately, we are seeing some concerning trends in our local fisheries. Anglers are experiencing climate impacts on fish, habitat, and coastal waters. And our fisheries managers need to move faster to make our fisheries climate ready.

The fish we catch today are different in abundance and type than we caught a few years ago. Warm-water fish such as scup and black sea bass have moved into the area in great abundance, and cold-water fish, like American lobster and winter flounder, have moved out of our region to deeper and colder water.

We also see robust profiles of bait like we have never seen before, such as squid, bay anchovies, mackerel, Atlantic menhaden and a host of others. Warm water is attracting these bait fish in abundance, which in turn are attracting a variety of fish close to shore.

This year we caught sharks, giant bluefin and school tuna close to shore. We had an abundance of porpoise and dolphin in the mouth of our Bay. On one Sunday in early September, more than 25 giant bluefin tuna were caught just two to three miles off Newport and Narragansett, R.I.

Striped bass, instead of migrating down south, are wintering here because the water is warm and bait is here. We actually had a striped bass fishery in our South County salt ponds throughout last winter.

Changes in fish migration and location present opportunities and challenges that our science and management needs to keep up with to make sure our fisheries remain sustainable. Recreational fishing has a major positive impact on Rhode Island’s economy. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and their 2018 Fisheries Economics of the United States published in 2020, recreational fishing has a $419 million annual sales economic impact on the state and provides 3,963 total jobs.

To continue to grow sustainably we need to make sure our fisheries are prepared for the changes we are seeing.

Our regional fishing managers and NOAA Fisheries have started to engage in initiatives to address climate change in our fisheries, but things are moving slower than the pace of change it seems. Our nation’s fisheries managers need to incorporate climate change information into decision making, and we are not doing this fast enough.

NOAA Fisheries and the eight regional fishery management councils have the power to improve the climate resiliency of our fisheries, but many are slow to adjust and too often decide to keep status quo. 

A Government Accountability Office report recently found that most fishery managers are not factoring climate change into their decisions, despite the very real consequences climate change is causing for the fish they are in charge of managing.

One way anglers can help is to comment on the new national recreational fishing policy. The policy was last done in 2015, and NOAA has asked for angler input on the revised 2023 policy by Dec. 31. We can weigh in online and make the point our nation needs to move faster to make our fisheries climate ready. Provide online comments at Public Presentations: Recreational Fisheries Policy Update | NOAA Fisheries.

We need to act now on climate change to preserve the great tradition of fishing and the positive economic impact it has on Rhode Island.

 

Greg Vespe of Tiverton is an avid angler and accomplished fishing tournament competitor. He serves as executive director of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association with 28 affiliated organizations and 7,500 members. It is the largest recreational fishing association of its type in the Northeast.

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