Seafood brand catching on in R.I.

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I love it when a plan comes together. Last week I had that feeling at the Rhode Island Seafood Marketing Collaborative meeting chaired by Janet Coit, director of the Department of Environmental Management.

Four years of meetings with fishermen, tourism and commerce representatives, scientists, fish processors, health department officials, chefs and restaurants owners to develop and implement a Rhode Island Seafood Brand, it is starting to catch on. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will pay off with big dividends for the fishing industry and tourism in Rhode Island. Ultimately it is (and will be) a big shot in the arm for Rhode Island’s economy.

However, the big winners of this branding initiative will be Rhode Islanders. We get to dine out or eat at home more seafood that is grown and/or landed in Rhode Island as that is what the R.I. Seafood label means. Look for the R.I. Seafood label and you know the fish was grown and/or landed in Rhode Island.

Presenter after presenter at the Seafood Marketing Collaborative meeting shared success stories about implementing the R.I. Seafood Brand. Highlights included:

A very success Calamari Cook-Off that took place in Narragansett in September, where 1,000 pounds of fresh Rhode Island calamari (donated by the industry) was prepared by area restaurants and chefs with thousands of people in attendance. R.I. lands more squid that any other port in the nation.

Newport Restaurant Week took place in early November with a focus on seafood landed or grown in Rhode Island. It was a big success that highlighted in part shellfish and R.I. quahogs. This year the event will have even a greater focus on local R.I. Seafood with the brand label.

The first annual Quahog Week was held this year at the Save the Bay facility in Providence. Quahog Week also had a group of restaurants participate in cooking various quahog dishes. Organizers hope to have more than 100 restaurants participating next year and will highlight a quahog art exhibit and a special area for participants to meet shell fishermen and get a close look at their equipment and gear.

A scup initiative (and marketing research study) was developed by the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation this year, and Dave’s Market helped implement portions of the plan. Chefs cooked scup at Dave’s Market stores educating shoppers encouraging them to buy and cook scup at home. Anna Malek, executive director of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation said, “Our surveys showed that Rhode Island business would buy and sell scup if there were a consistent supply. We have plenty of scup in the water; however, landings are up and down. When you catch them, you may be into thousands of pounds but the next week there are a lot fewer fish so the idea of fresh-freezing fillets is something we are exploring to provide a consistent supply.”

Good news was also related by Sue AnderBois, director of food strategy for the State of Rhode Island. She and her team are holding Rhode Island’s first Food System Summit that will layout a daft strategy for food grown or landed in Rhode Island. She aims to take public comment on the plan and have Rhode Island’s first Statewide Food Plan in place by May 2017.

Congratulations to the RI Seafood Marketing Collaborative as well as Janet Coit, DEM director and her staff, for spearheading such a great effort that will benefit all Rhode Islanders.

Fishermen asked to comment on Atlantic menhaden

Atlantic menhaden are an important forage fish for striped bass, bluefish, tuna and other species. Recreational anglers claim that fishing for these game fish is off when the quantity of forage fish is down. Additionally, Atlantic menhaden are filter feeders with each fish processing thousands of gallons of water filtering out plankton to help prevent algae blooms.

So if you want to impact regulations pertaining to this species, now is the time to become active. There will be an Atlantic menhaden public hearing to talk about important Fishery Management Plan issues on Monday, Dec. 19, at 7:00 p.m. at Corless Auditorium at the URI Bay Campus in Narragansett. Specifically the public hearing will address a new Public Information Document (PID) that is a predecessor to Amendment 3 to the Atlantic menhaden Fishery Management Plan that will be developed later this year.

NOAA’s website says Atlantic menhaden “play an important role in the ecosystem as both a forage fish for striped bass, weakfish, bluefish, and predatory birds such as osprey and eagles as well as serving as a filter feeder because they feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton at various life stages.”

So rather than just managing Atlantic menhaden to ensure they remain sustainable as a species, the PID aims to include ecosystem-based management measures to ensure that enough Atlantic menhaden are left in the water for other species to eat as forage fish as well as enough to fulfill their ecological role.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) regulates migratory species on the east coast, many of them we fish commercially and recreationally here in Rhode Island including striped bass, summer flounder (fluke), black sea bass, bluefish and Atlantic menhaden.

Atlantic menhaden are plentiful; a 2015 stock assessment for the resource relates they are in good condition, neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing. In fact, population fecundity, a measure of reproductive capacity, was estimated to be roughly double the threshold value and mortality was estimated to be .22, below both the fishing mortality threshold of 1.26 and the target of 0.38.

The PID can be found on the ASMFC website at www.asmfc.org. Public comments can be made at the Dec. 19 meeting and will also be accepted in writing until 5:00 p.m. (EST) on Jan. 4, 2017. Comments can be sent electronically to comments Menhaden PID).

Where’s the bite?

Cod and tautog fishing

was good last week when boats were able to get out due to rough seas. Capt. BJ Silvia of Flippin Out Charters said they fished this weekend off Newport with a good tautog bite. Capt. Silvia said, “Ronnie Mohammed of New York caught and released a 14-pound tautog he caught and released when fishing with me Sunday off Newport.”

Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “We were not able to get out much last week but the two times we sailed both tautog and cod fishing was good with tautog to ten pounds and cod fish to the mid-teens.” Capt. Charlie Donilon of Snappa Charters said, “We have left the Newport area and have been fishing the waters south of Pt. Judith, East Grounds (East of Block Island) and Block Island. The biggest surprise has been the number of cod fish we have caught while targeting blackfish. This past week’s bonus was catching 20 cod on East Grounds and a dozen more while fishing off Clayhead, Block Island. The cod were biting on green crabs more than the sea clams. The best action was on cod jigs when drifting at East Grounds.”

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at dmontifish@verizon.net or visit his website at www.noflukefishing.com.

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