Fishermen come out in support of balloon-release bill

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 2/8/20

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday, Jan. 28, on legislation, introduced by Rep. Susan Donovan (D-69), which attempts to protect the environment and wildlife by banning the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


Fishermen come out in support of balloon-release bill

Posted

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday, Jan. 28, on legislation, introduced by Rep. Susan Donovan (D-69), which attempts to protect the environment and wildlife by banning the intentional release of balloons into the air.

“When I first introduced the legislation last year, I was thinking of it as a purely environmental issue,” said Rep. Donovan. “Then I started hearing from fishermen about how much of a nuisance these balloons were. Ken Murgo, a Bristol lobsterman, told me he’s been out on the water and mistaken balloons floating on the surface for lobster pot buoys.”

Balloons are not only a significant threat to wildlife and a nuisance to commercial fishermen, they have been implicated in several power outages in recent years. All released balloons, including those falsely marketed as biodegradable, end up as litter on waterways and landscapes. Animals, attracted by their vibrant colors and shapes, mistake them for food, causing injury or death to countless sea and land creatures each year. 

According to Save The Bay, the plastic remains of 737 balloons were found along Rhode Island’s shoreline during its statewide cleanup in September 2018. Dead sea creatures continually wash up on our shores, their stomachs filled with plastic debris or bodies tangled in the strings of released balloons.

The bill (2020-H 7261), which is modeled after legislation proposed in New Jersey, would prohibit any intentional release of balloons, except for scientific or meteorological purposes with government permission, hot air balloon launches and indoor releases. Each violation would be punishable by a fine of up to $500 per offense, although releases of multiple balloons at once would be considered a single offense.

The bill has widespread support from environmental groups across Rhode Island and fishermen’s associations. Norbert Stamps, who supports the legislation, is vice president of the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, executive board member of the Commercial Fishermen’s Research Foundation, board member of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine and past president of the R.I. Lobstermen’s Association. According to Rep. Donavan, he spoke forcefully in support of the legislation on Tuesday night.

In 2018, the New Shoreham Town Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of balloons on Block Island as a means of addressing this issue. Rep. Donovan’s bill would not prohibit balloon sales, only the outdoor release of balloons.

“As a commercial fisherman in Narragansett Bay, I frequently come across balloons floating on the surface, on the sea floor, and in my traps,” said Bristol lobster fisherman Katie Eagan. “Releasing balloons is a form of littering that directly pollutes the ecosystems I depend on. It was been well documented that fish, turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds often mistake balloon material for prey and are killed as a result. Banning the release of balloons will bring us one step closer to preserving a healthy and productive ecosystem for all stakeholders.”

The House Judiciary Committee will consider Tuesday’s oral testimony as well as written testimony; the same process will be followed in the Senate with that chamber’s version of the bill. If they are voted out of committee, they will come to the floor of both chambers for a full vote. 

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.