A lot has gone on this year that has and will continue to impact our bays and ocean waters and the health of our fishery. Here are four major issues that I thought and wrote about a lot this year.
Hurricane Sandy continues to creative awareness about global warning. Government officials, politicians and coastal residents in particular are now heightening awareness about the issue. All are making claims that global warming is real. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of RI testified to the damaging effects of Sandy along coastal shores relating that this is now "the new normal". Coastal areas will continue to flood. And, we have to recognize this as we plan to rebuild.
So it is now not an issue about global warming being real, the dialogue is changing to how to prepare for it and prevent it from getting worse by reducing our carbon footprint and preserving our ozone layer as scientist have been telling us Narragansett Bay and near coastal water temperatures have been heating up for nearly 40 years.
How warm you ask? Well it 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) is much warmer at 39.1 F. (Nixon, Granger and Buckley, The Warming of Narragansett Bay, 2003).
However, even this temperature of 39.1 F is far from the warmer water temperatures recorded this February 12, 2012… Conimicut Point, 45 F; Newport, 42 F; and Block Island, 46 F.
Wind power off our shores now a reality
Obstacle after obstacle have been put in front of scientists, ocean spatial planners (like zoning in your town accept in the ocean) and wind energy developers. Two companies, Deapwater Wind (in RI) and Cape Wind (in MA) have been working with local fisherman, spatial ocean planners and government officials to site wind farms in our oceans. They have made great progress this year thanks to helpful federal policy and local government officials taking the bull by the horns and pushing this initiative forward. Developers are developing wind farms responsibly.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and agencies like RI Coastal Resources Management Council, that has developed a model for spatial planning used by others throughout the US, are working with developers of wind farms to locate and mitigate the impact of wind farms on the environment and fisheries. It looks like our five turbine wind farm off Block Island will start construction in 2014.
The wind farm will generate over 125,000 megawatt hours annually, supplying the majority of Block Island's electricity needs. Excess power will be exported to the mainland via the bi-directional Block Island Transmission System. Learnings from this project will be applied to the 200 plus wind turbine farm planned for the Cox's Ledge area off Rhode Island. We have a lot of work to do to make sure these wind farms and others are developed responsibly but we are making great progress and we are on the right path.
Sector management and catch shares work, we need to keep these programs rolling
Last month the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled against the cities of New Bedford and Gloucester and industry plaintiffs in their challenge to Amendment 16, the framework for the federal government's fisheries catch share system. In an excerpt from the decision the Court said, "This case involves legal challenges to recent federal management actions taken in New England's sensitive Multispecies Groundfish Fishery. We reject the many challenges and affirm entry of summary judgment for the federal defendants."
The ruling supports the catch share fisheries management approach engaged by fish managers in New England. This was the third time the courts ruled in favor of catch shares. Government officials, fish regulators and mangers in RI and MA need to stay the course and not be distracted by vocal minorities in the fishing community that provide very little in the way of positive (proven) solutions to fishing challenges.
Another example of a successful sector management program is the RI Fluke Sector Pilot which ran for three years. It was put on hold this year not because it failed, but many say because local political leaders and regulators believed it was political expedient to do so. It is wrong to play politics with fish as Massachusetts leaders did with ground fish and as we are doing with the RI Fluke Sector Pilot.
In both the RI Fluke Sector and the New England Ground fish case, annual catch limits were put into place to prevent overfishing and to rebuild stocks. The idea was to provide fishermen with two options for controlling fishing effort.
Fishermen could either form groups and fish an allocated share of the total allowed catch or fish individually with a limit on the number of days spent fishing.
Fishing in groups with a total allowable catch (TAC) offers fishermen flexibility to fish when market prices are highest, fish for species when they are available and other species are not or when the weather is good.
Among the trends, were increased revenues and prices. The sector proved to be a very effective way to sustain the resource with record low discard rates (as much as 98% fewer discards than non sector participants). According to a paper presented by Dr. Chris Anderson, a former professor of environmental and natural resource economics at the University of Rhode Island, "...the (RI Pilot) sector shifted fluke landings to times when they could maximize price. Comparing revenues… we find the sector program increased fleet wide (twelve boats in the fleet at this time) revenues over $800,000, including benefits of over $250,000 to non-sector vessels." So the pilot sector enhanced revenue for its twelve members, but also incurred enhanced revenue for non-sector vessels.
Our State and US Congressional delegations and fish mangers should continue to learn from the RI Fluke Sector Pilot and New England Ground Fish sector because they worked and have been successful. While listening to one small vocal segment of the fishing community, some Massachusetts (and Rhode Island) fish mangers and elected officials were convinced that "catch shares" management models were bad. These two programs have proved them wrong. Government leaders and fish managers need to follow the court's lead, stop playing politics with the fish and keep sector management rolling in Rhode Island and New England.
ASMFC votes to restrict Atlantic Menhaden catch
On December 14, 2012 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted on Draft Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden which outlined a number of new regulations on the species.
This was a major vote and the first time in that such restrictions have been put on the harvesting of this important t fish.
Peter Baker of the PEW Environment Group said "… the ASMFC listened to the science and the public in taking a historic step to end overfishing of Atlantic Menhaden and to begin to rebuild the population of this important little fish… By adopting the first coastwise catch limit on this fishery, the commission has begun to reverse the 90 percent plunge in the menhaden population over the past three decades. Sound science clearly calls for leaving more of these fish in the water to fulfill their ecological role. More menhaden means more food for ocean wildlife, from seabirds to whales and popular game fish such as striped bass.". A new total allowable catch (TAC) limit along with regulations to achieve it will help ensure that the Atlantic Menhaden biomass rebuilds and stays at desired sustainable levels.
In addition to being a great food source for other fish, Atlantic Menhaden also serve as roving filters, converting algae into energy and thus reducing nutrient loads in bays and covers. A reduction of nutrients means fewer algae blooms and ultimately more oxygen for all fish. The ASMFC vote on Atlantic Menhaden was a big win for the fish and the environment in Rhode Island and along the east coast.
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing on Narragansett Bay for over 40 years. He holds a captain's master license, a charter fishing license, and is a member of the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council and the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association. Visit Captain Dave's No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com, his blog at www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com or e-mail him at email@example.com.